carol.htm

Summary: On Christmas Eve, LaCroix is visited by spirits who show
him what was, what is, and what could be.

This story is an expansion of my "Knight Before Christmas" poem.
Rated G

--------

A Christmas Knight Carol
by Fran Glass

As LaCroix unlocked the door to the deserted radio station, he
had the uneasy feeling that he was being watched. Glancing about at
the darkened streets, he saw no one, nor could he detect the
vibrations of another vampire or hear the thumping of a human
heartbeat. After a moment, he shrugged off the sensation and entered
into the building. As he passed through the lobby, he paused and
sneered at the decorated tree which had been erected by the small,
daytime staff. He'd be happy when all this Christmas nonsense was
over and the world would return to its normal non-twinkling, none-
jingling, non-jolly self. If one more person wished him a Merry
Christmas, he was liable to disembowel them on the spot.

He moved on into the sound booth and took his seat behind the
console to prepare for the start of his radio program. The disc
jockey before him had -- as usual -- left a long, tape of music
playing. Since LaCroix put a good deal of his own money into the
radio station, it wasn't as dependent on advertisers as most
stations were. Ads were saved for daytime use. The night belonged to
him.

He knew that he was alone in the building, so it took him off
guard when the door to the booth silently opened.

"Who's there?" he called out.

"An old friend," came the reply from a male figure hidden in the
shadows of the doorway.

LaCroix squinted his eyes. He knew that he should be able to see
the man despite the dim lighting, but he was still unable to make
out any details. "Old friend, you say?" he inquired of the shadow.
"Care to jog my memory?"

"We last shared a good laugh over the death of a woman
archeologist in Egypt and the fact that your young one, Nicholas was
so naive as to think he was on the verge of finding a cure for
vampirism."

LaCroix was instantly able to put a name to the voice. "Thomas?"

The figure finally took a step forward into the light. LaCroix
was taken aback by the other vampire's appearance. His leathery skin
was ash gray, accented with hollow eyes and blackened lips. The
styling of his dark suit appeared contemporary but was marred by a
broken off stake protruding from the left side of his chest.

"It's been a long time, my friend," he spoke with subdued
anguish.

"Indeed. I hate to state the obvious, but you don't look well,
Thomas."

"I suppose not. I've had a bit of bad luck. You've been staked
before, haven't you?"

LaCroix nodded and frowned. "Stings a bit."

"It does at that. And when you've no one around to pull it out
for you...."

"Most unpleasant, yes. Would you like for me to..." LaCroix
gestured towards the stake.

"That's kind of you to offer but, no. There's really no point.
Besides, it doesn't hurt anymore."

"I see," said LaCroix, not actually understanding what was going
on with his old friend. He didn't give off the vibrations that
identified him as a vampire and he showed no discomfort at having a
stake rammed through his heart. It was most disconcerting, yet
LaCroix managed to retain his composure. "So, Thomas, tell me what
brings you here tonight."

"I've come to warn you, LaCroix."

"Warn me? Of what?"

"Of your future. There is an unpleasant life ahead of you if you
remain on the course you have chosen."

"On the course I have chosen? I'm afraid I don't quite
understand."

"Evil. Your young one, Nicholas has the right idea, trying to
atone for his sins."

"Nicholas is a fool!" LaCroix hissed.

"I thought so once myself. Until I met with a vampire hunter and
was swiftly dispatched to meet my maker. The original one, that is.
Never considered the possibility that anyone would be keeping tally
on my achievements or lack thereof."

"Are you implying that you are a ghost, and that you've come back
to warn me to change my evil ways or I shall end up as you are?"

"Worse. Your sins are far greater than mine. You have far more
for which to atone. You can begin by making peace with young
Nicholas. There will come a time when you will need his protection."

LaCroix spit out a laugh. "Don't be ridiculous. I need no one's
protection, least of all that of Nicholas."

"If you will not listen to me, then perhaps you'll heed the words
of the others."

"Others? What others?"

"You will be visited by three others tonight. Heed their words,
LaCroix," Thomas' voice echoed through the booth as his image began
to fade into nothingness. "Heed their words."

LaCroix stared curiously at the empty spot where his old friend
had been standing. "Must have drank the blood of some LSD-dropping
hippie," he spoke aloud, trying to convince himself that what he had just
witnessed was not real. "No more of the domestic stuff. Imported
only from now on."

He decided to put the strange occurrence behind him and go on
with preparing for his radio program. After adjusting the microphone
to a comfortable position, LaCroix reached for the button that would
send his voice over the airwaves. Before he could make contact
however, a large, meaty hand appeared out of no where and grasped
him tightly. Startled, LaCroix looked up and his eyes grew wide at
the translucent vision of a rotund man with a white beard, dressed
in the elegant garb of 15th century European royalty.

"There's no time for that now," the stranger bellowed in a loud
but cheerful voice. "We've places to go, people to see."

"Who the blazes are you?" LaCroix demanded to know. "How'd you
get in?"

"Ah! Do forgive my manners. I am the Ghost of Christmas Past. I
assumed you had been warned of my coming. There will be two others,
but I will be first. And if you don't mind, I'm on a bit of a tight
schedule. You will be so kind as to come with me now."

"Come with you where?" asked LaCroix even though he already had a
pretty good idea of what to expect. It appeared that he was in the
midst of experiencing first hand a version of Charles Dickens' novel,
"A Christmas Carol." Apparently, he had been cast in the role of
Scrooge. It was all too preposterous to be reality, so the other
answer was that he was dreaming.

"Into the past," said the spirit. "Let us hurry," he added as he
tugged forcefully and pulled LaCroix with him through solid wall and
up into the night sky. "You're already able to fly," said the ghost
over his shoulder. "That makes it so much easier!"

"Where are we going?" LaCroix asked again, noticing that the
lights of the city had quickly faded from view as rows upon rows of
trees took their place.

"There!" the spirit pointed to a small chateau nestled at the
edge of a forest. "You recognize it?"

He recognized it instantly. It was Le Chateau de Brabant, the
home of Nicholas' mortal family. The memories of his first time
there came bitterly to mind. LaCroix had been introduced to Fleur,
Nicholas' beautiful, younger sister. Never had the old vampire
felt such an instantaneously and powerful attraction before.
It had been love at first sight for them both. He had wanted to give
her the gift of immortality so that they might spend all of eternity
together, but Nicholas had stood in their way. He hadn't approved of
his little sister losing her innocence and being condemned to live
an infinity in darkness.

Only because LaCroix had not felt worthy of possessing such a
rare treasure did he allow Nicholas to talk him into walking away
from Fleur. Still, he had not forgiven his child for the hurt he had
caused by first introducing him to Fleur, and secondly, by forcing
him to turn his back on her offer of love. He could have given her
immortality, keeping her beauty intact for all time. Instead she
died of sickness only a few years later, leaving behind an orphaned
son who never reached adulthood.

LaCroix and the spirit soon reached the chateau where lit candles
could be seen in the windows and a large holly wreath adorned the
front door. Before the vampire could voice his objections about
entering the home, he was pulled through the closed door and found
himself standing in the middle of the parlor. The room was richly
decorated with boughs of mistletoe and holly accented with bright
red, yarn tied into bows. Seated in a chair in front of a blazing
fireplace, was Fleur. She was even more beautiful than LaCroix had
remembered, and he was tempted to run to her side but held himself
back. It was only a dream, he kept telling himself. It was the
closest he'd come to believing in heaven and he knew that the
escaped angel in front of him could not possibly be real.

The surreal and peaceful moment was shattered by the cries of a
child. LaCroix turned to see a dark-haired, young man entering the
room carrying a sobbing infant. "I believe our son wants his
mother," the man announced over the loud wailing.

"It appears our son has his father's hearty appetite," said Fleur
as she took the child from her husband and prepared to breast feed.

"Or perhaps, like his father, he merely takes great pleasure in
being near you, my love." He knelt beside his wife and kissed her
cheek, then as Fleur began to suckle their child, her husband looked
on with adoring love and pride.

"I still can't believe how lucky I am to have found you, love.
And this wonderful gift you've given me leaves me all but
speechless. I owe you my happiness."

"No, my dear Stefan, it is I who owe you a great debt. I never
thought I would find anyone who could fill me with such joy. And
this precious little one you've given me... I never imagined
motherhood would give me such a feeling of completeness, of purpose.
Thank you, Stefan. A thousand times, thank you for giving me reason
to live."

"Enough!" LaCroix bellowed and turned away from the lovebirds.
"Why is it necessary to torture me in this way, Spirit? This--this
so-called happiness will not last. They're all doomed. In little
more than a decade, they'll all be dead and gone, so what purpose
does this serve for me to stand here and watch this pathetic
melodrama?"

"You do not care that the only woman you've ever loved
experienced such happiness no matter how briefly it may have
lasted?"

"I could have given her happiness a thousand times over!"

"Could you have given her a child? You could offer the gift of
immortality, but could you offer the gift of motherhood? Looking at
her face now, which one do you think she would have chosen if she
had known what each one would entail?"

Begrudgingly, LaCroix stole a glance back at Fleur and her
storybook family. "What do you want from me?" he asked the spirit in
a softer tone. "I gave her up so that she could have this. Do you
want me to admit that I made the right decision? Well, I won't. I'll
never think that. I did what I did to pacify Nicholas. It would have
been impossible to deal with him if I had gone against his wishes."

"And Nicholas means a great deal to you?"

"What Nicholas means to me is none of your concern. I shall
discuss the matter no further."

"Just as well," said the spirit. "Our time is up anyway."

The Spirit of Christmas Past raised his robe out to the sides,
spun around in a circle, then vanished in a blinding light. LaCroix
shielded his eyes from the light with his hand. After a moment, he
blinked and looked about, finding himself sitting once again in the
sound booth at the radio station. He looked at his watch and saw
that only ten minutes had passed since he'd first arrived in the
building. He rose to his feet and began pacing about the room.

Of course it had to have been a dream or a hallucination caused
by some tainted blood he must have ingested. Another alternative was
that he was going insane. Insanity among vampires was not all that
rare. Sometimes the endless succession of years had a way of
catching up with a person. LaCroix felt that Nicholas would be more
apt to snap because of how he allowed himself to become so
emotionally involved with mortals. When he constantly outlives those
he befriends or kills them himself, it would only be a matter of
time before his mind could no longer handle all the guilt and
suffering. At such a point, he might become depressed enough to
consider suicide or he might go completely mad.

But that was Nicholas, LaCroix thought to himself as he ceased
his pacing. That had absolutely no baring on what was happening to
him at the moment. If he weren't losing his grasp on reality, then
the only other explanation was that what he had just experienced was
real. Could it have been that Dickens' classic tale held more truth
than fiction to it? If so, that meant he could expect visits from
two more spirits. A pure waste of time, he decided.

"If I am going mad," he spoke out loud, "then so be it. However,
if this is some sort of life lesson I am being taught by way of a
classic Christmas fable, then we can forego the rest of this story.
I know how it ends. Let's just say that I will buy Bob Cratchet
that fat goose in the window, I will donate money to the orphanages
and see to it that Tiny Tim gets that operation. Now can we simply
call it a night?"

"I'm afraid it doesn't work that way, love."

For the third time that night LaCroix was taken off guard by the
sudden appearance of yet another spirit. He spun around to find an
attractive, young woman leaning against the control console. Her
curvaceous body seemed to have been poured into the red leather
jacket, pants and boots she was wearing. Though she looked nothing
like Old Saint Nick, the white fur trimming around her collar and
cuffs, and matching hat she wore over her long, auburn hair gave her
a Santa-like appearance.

LaCroix composed himself quickly and greeted her with a smile.
"And I take it that you are the Spirit of Christmas Present?"

"I see you've been expecting me, Lucien. You know, you're my very
first vampire. We really don't get many of you guys."

"And what is it about me that makes me so fortunate as to be on
your visitation list tonight?"

"You've been naughty. Well, actually, you've been quite a deal
more than just naughty. You've been downright evil. But apparently,
someone seems to think that your soul is worth saving, that perhaps
there's some redeeming value, a scrap of humanity just waiting to be
released."

"And who would be so gullible as to think that?" asked LaCroix.

"That's for me to know and you to find out. But on your own time.
We're on a tight schedule, so let's go."

"Go whe--"

Before he could get the words out, he was grabbed by the wrist
and whisked away. Through the walls and up into the night sky, they
flew a short distance to a suburban neighborhood where houses were
brightly decorated with colorful lights and ornamentation. The
spirit zeroed in on one house in particular and flew through a
closed window which lead into a spacious family room filled with two
dozen cheerful guests hard at play. Natalie was the center of
attention as she stood before the crowd drawing images on a large
sketch pad propped on an easel. As she drew questionable stick
figures, others yelled out their guesses of what it could possibly
represent.

"Reindeer!"

"Rudolph the Red-nosed Reindeer!"

Natalie shook her head and continued to draw an additional stick
figure that appeared to be lying down. When she added what looked
like tire tracks across the body, someone popped up with the song
title solution of "Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer." A cheer
arose from the winning team while the losing team groaned and
complained about having been given all the hard ones to do.

Natalie took the temporary break in the game to seek out the
party's host. The spirit prompted LaCroix to follow Nat as she
headed into the kitchen where Schanke was concocting something in a
punchbowl.

"Hi, Nat. You guys having fun out there?"

"Yeah. I just hope we're not keeping your daughter awake with all
this noise."

"Jenny's like me. She can sleep through a tornado. I'll check on
her in a few minutes though. But right now, you're just in time to
try my world famous eggnog. It's my own recipe." Schanke poured her
a cupful and silently urged her to taste it.

"Mmm. That's pretty good, Schanke. It's got a little bit of a
kick too. It's not going to get me drunk, is it?"

"Not if you don't drink more than three cups. I only made enough
to go around once, so unless you get greedy on me.... You mind
helping me fill some cups?"

"Not at all."

As they scooped up servings from the bowl and poured them into a
tray of small, plastic cups, Schanke brought up the subject of his
missing partner. "So, you couldn't talk Nick into coming either?"

"No, afraid not. He said he had other plans."

"What other plans?"

"I don't know, Schanke. He didn't elaborate. He just insisted
that I come and have fun and not worry about him."

"Yeah, that sounds like Nick all right. I thought for a moment
that he might've had himself a hot date with that Janette chick, but
when I suggested that he bring her along, he told me that she was
out of town. Said that she hated the Christmas season and couldn't
tolerate the commercialization of it all, so she left the country
for some little out of the way retreat in Asia somewhere. You know,
sometimes I think the guy is my friend and other times he's like a
total stranger. Like, just the other night, he bought Jenny a
Christmas present, but when we swing by the house to drop it off, I
can't get him to get out of the car and come inside. I mean it was
like the thought of entering my house offended him in some way."

"Well, you did kind of go overboard with the decorations.
Especially that nativity scene. It almost looks like the real
thing."

"Oh yeah, I think it looks pretty good too. But getting back to
Nick--"

"Schanke, Nick..." Natalie searched for the right words to try to
explain Nick's aloof behavior. "Because of his sun allergy and his
sensitivity to most of the foods you and I take for granted, Nick
tends to feel a little out of place around others. If he had come
here tonight, you and I both know you would have been bugging him to
try some of Myra's fantastic dishes and your world famous eggnog.
And Nick would have felt uncomfortable because he would have been
constantly turning down all offers to stuff his face. Now that I
think about it, I believe I've eaten more tonight than I have all
week. Everything tasted great by the way."

"Thanks. Myra really outdid herself. I suppose you might be right
about one thing. I'm sure me and Myra both would have been trying to
shove food into Nick's mouth all evening if he had shown up."

"And keep in mind, this is just Christmas Eve. After I pay a
visit to my niece and goddaughter tomorrow, I'll stop by the loft
and let Nick know what a great time he missed."

"Yeah well, maybe I'll give him a call later after everything's
quiet. Get him to come over and help me put together that giant
playhouse Santa brought for Jenny." Schanke picked up the tray of
prepared drinks and nodded towards the door. "Come on. I think they
can use some refreshments out there."

"I imagine there's some point to my witnessing this boring,
little scene?" said LaCroix to the spirit.

"Yes, there is, but since you didn't get it, we shall move on."

She grabbed him by the hand and they were abruptly off again.
This time, LaCroix had no problems recognizing their new
destination. It was Nick's loft. The fireplace had been lit along
with several candles placed here and there to provide subtle
lighting to the oversized room. Nick sat at the piano, playing
softly. He began singing, keeping his voice low as though he was
afraid of disturbing his nonexistent neighbors.

"Have yourself a merry little Christmas. Let your heart be light-
-"

He stopped suddenly, the lyrics to the song reminding him of his
loneliness. He reached for the opened bottle of blood on top of the
piano and took a long swig. Taking the bottle with him, he walked
over to the stereo and switched on the radio. He listened to the
music playing for a moment, then noted the digital time display on
the nearby VCR.

"You're running late, old man," he spoke to the radio. "Taking
Christmas Eve off, are you? No depressing monologues tonight for all
those lonely, lost souls who dread the holidays? No diatribe on why
anyone should even bother to live through another blue Christmas
while the rest of the world is making merry? Oh, I know. You're out
somewhere filling your belly with the blood of some poor street
corner Santa Claus, aren't you? Is that your way of showing your
Christmas spirit?"

Nick switched off the radio, then picked out a cassette tape from
a collection of others and stuffed it into the player. He flipped
the play switch, and his master's voice came over the speakers.
LaCroix recognized his own words from the previous night's broadcast
where he had given a history of Christmas based on a scientific
viewpoint. He pointed out that according to many in the scientific
field, there was no hard evidence that the birth of Christ had
actually occurred, and that the whole virgin birth thing was quite
possibly no more than a contrived fairy tale. All of which meant that
Christmas itself was merely a gigantic farce perpetrated by those
who only sought to force their religion upon others.

Nick listened impassively to the words, not seeming to despise
them nor disagree with them. Finally, he moved away from the stereo
and went to sit down on the couch. Picking up a remote and aiming it
at the TV, he scanned the stations until he happened upon a black
and white production of "A Christmas Carol." He decided to watch the
movie but with the volume turned down, choosing instead to listen to
the tape of his master's voice. Before taking another long swallow,
he raised his bottle of blood in a toasting gesture and said, "Merry
Christmas, LaCroix."

LaCroix stepped up behind him, tempted to reach out and touch his
blonde curls, but suddenly caught himself. Even if he were able to
touch Nicholas in his present nonexistent state, he did not wish to
do so in front of an audience.

"One would think that he actually likes me, or something."

"Or something. Even though you constantly taunt him and berate
his lifestyle, and you occasionally inflict physical abuse upon him,
he still manages to find some infinitesimal shred of--" The spirit
paused in her statement, then shook her head. "Actually, I have no
earthly idea what possible good he sees in you."

"I've seen enough here," said LaCroix to the spirit.

"And so you have," she responded softly. She opened the palm of
her hand in front of his face, then blew a cloud of glitter from it
into his eyes.

By the time LaCroix rubbed and wiped the irritant away, he found
himself back in the sound booth where he had started. Checking his
watch, he saw that another ten minutes had elapsed. At least at the
rate things were progressing, he thought, by the time it was all
over he'd still have a full evening ahead of him.

"Two down and one to go." LaCroix tried to prepare himself for
the specter of death he was expecting to make an appearance. When a
shadow fell over him from behind, he managed not to jump. "I suppose
you're here to show me my future?"

"That is my purpose, yes."

LaCroix was surprised at hearing the spirit speak. He assumed it
would be like the hooded, speechless apparition he'd seen in
countless movies. He turned to find a tall, well-dressed, dark-
haired gentleman looking as if he were ready for a night at the
opera.

"My appearance surprises you?"

"Yes. I was expecting something more--"

"Grim Reaper? Well, times change. Shall we get on with it?"

"Regarding my future," said LaCroix as he stood and faced the
spirit. "I have experienced death before, and I find that I've
apparently reached the age where it's not exactly permanent, so I
don't feel that your contribution is all that necessary. Your
friends have shown me enough already to make me embrace Christmas
with much more enthusiasm, and I assure you that I am a better
person for it."

The spirit stared blankly at LaCroix, obviously not giving his
words any consideration. After a long moment, he leaned slightly
forward as if to whisper. "You know," he spoke in a normal tone,
"I've met a number of vampires in my travel, all of whom were under
the impression that they would live forever. But guess what? They
didn't. When it's your time, my friend, make no mistake, you _will_
die. Permanently."

LaCroix said nothing in reply. He simply placed his hand in the
one reaching out for him and followed dutifully. The destination
this time was Paris, easily recognizable as they passed the Eiffel
Tower. They entered through the window of a luxurious hotel suite.
Cuddled up on the sofa, sipping wine-laced blood and gazing at the
twinkling lights of a Christmas tree, were Nicholas and Janette.

"You remember the last time we celebrated Christmas together?"
Nick asked.

"I think the year was 1924. Almost a full century ago. It was
right before you and LaCroix had that tiff over the pretty little
ballerina. Right before you decided to give up killing mortals for
good. It's probably that stubborn streak of humanity left in you
that saved you from the same fate as our master."

"I wonder. Even after all these years, I still can't shake the
feeling that he'll return. After all, he's done it before."

"But he didn't have to go searching for his head before."

"My head?" LaCroix blurted out. "What is she talking about?" he
asked the spirit. "I've been beheaded?"

"Face it, Nichola," Janette continued. "It's been twenty years
now. He's gone for good. And after the way he treated you, I would
think you'd be happy."

"Oh, I am," Nick assured her with a quick kiss and a smile.
"Believe me, I'm ecstatic. He finally got what he deserved. I just
wish I had been the one to give it to him."

"He hates me," LaCroix murmured ruefully.

"I actually had the opportunity to save him," said Nicholas in
thinking back. "Then I thought, why should I? The whole past century
we hadn't gotten along well at all, and he was forever tormenting
me. Then after what he did to Natalie on Valentine's Day, I
certainly had no love left for him. As far as he was concerned, her
death was merely a way of teaching me another lesson, but it almost
destroyed me. And when that evil little thing came looking for him,
wanting to wipe him out and everyone that meant anything to him, I
wasn't even interested in fighting back at first."

"What's he talking about?" asked LaCroix. "What evil thing?" He
received no response from the spirit or clarification from Nicholas.

"I nearly gave in. I was ready to die. It wasn't until I realized
that you would be next on the list that I felt I should do something
to stop all the killing. I got to his place in time to prevent him
from losing his head, but I waited instead. And I watched the horror
in his eyes when he caught sight of me in the doorway and realized
that I had no intentions of intervening. He tried to scream out my
name, but there was no time."

"Enough!" LaCroix howled. "Enough of this, Spirit! I will see no
more of this."

"There is no more," said the spirit as he vanished from sight.

The room they had been standing in faded to black, then slowly a
dim light brought him to the realization that he was once again back
at the radio station. He sat numbly in front of the console, sorting
out in his mind all that he had heard and seen. He came to the
conclusion that his journey had not been about his lack of Christmas
spirit. It had been about his relationship with Nicholas and the
tenuous thread between them that was threatening to break
completely.

He was reminded of when he had first come to Toronto and he and
Nicholas had battled to the death, his own death. Being such an old
vampire, he was able to regenerate. When he approached Nicholas
again, LaCroix could sense the relief his child felt over his
return, though Nicholas would loathe to admit it. He had never
sensed pure hatred from Nicholas over any of their previous
altercations. There was anger and resentment but never any
indication that LaCroix would not be welcomed back into his son's
life at some point.

If he remained on his current path, however, if he continued to
harass and emotionally torture his offspring, there would come a
time when Nicholas would no longer find forgiveness in his heart.
And when the evil little thing -- whatever it was -- came along,
Nicholas would not lift a finger to save him from it.

"Spirits," LaCroix spoke to the empty room, "you have indeed
shown me the light. I cannot say that I will change entirely
overnight, but I understand now that time is ticking away. I will
endeavor to be more tolerant of Nicholas, and perhaps of mortals in
general, but definitely to my Nicholas."

LaCroix glanced at his watch and saw that his entire ordeal with
the spirits had only taken a half hour. He thought about doing his
show, but decided against it. Instead, he lined up another music
tape to take his place, then stood and walked out of the sound
booth. As he passed through the lobby of the radio station, he
paused to look at the Christmas tree, and thought of Nicholas home
alone sulking the night away. An idea formed but he shook his head
to lose it, thinking how utterly silly it was. Another image
blossomed, and he smiled as he pictured himself as the Grinch after
his heart had grown three sizes larger.

"He'll think I've gone mad," LaCroix spoke aloud to himself. Then
with a giggle, he added, "I suppose I have."

-------

As Nick sat alone in his home staring glumly into space, he
became startled by a loud bumping noise coming from the roof. When
he flew up to the skylight to investigate, he was shocked to find
LaCroix doing an impersonation of Santa Claus. He was dressed in his
usual black except for the red and white Santa hat on his head. He
stood on the roof holding an eight foot Christmas tree in one hand
and a large plastic bag in the other.

"Merry Christmas, Nicholas," the old vampire beamed cheerfully.
"Care to help me get this all inside?"

"LaCroix? What on earth -- what's gotten into you?"

"The Christmas Spirit, my dear Nicholas," said LaCroix with a
wild grin. "The Christmas Spirit has gotten into me. Now,
assistance?"

Nick helped LaCroix get the tree and the bag -- which was filled
with lights and ornaments -- through the skylight. He questioned
LaCroix about his unusual good mood and was told with very little
detail that his master had been visited by spirits, much in the same
way Ebeneezer Scrooge had been. Nick asked if he was sure it hadn't
just been a vivid dream.

"Quite possibly a dream, Nicholas," LaCroix admitted. "Or perhaps
the results of some bad, figgy pudding. Doesn't matter. What does
matter is that I've been made aware of certain aspects of my life.
I've made some errors in judgment in the past regarding our
relationship, and though I won't claim that things from now on will
be peaches and cream between us, I shall attempt to be more
understanding of your needs in the future."

Nick's mouth fell open in disbelief of the words he'd just heard.
It was as close to an apology as he would get from his master. With
his left, index finger, LaCroix reached up and gently pushed his
son's chin upwards to close his mouth.

"Now, since you seem to be otherwise unoccupied and there's a
naked evergreen in our midst, I suggest you help me decorate it."

For a moment, Nick couldn't move. He could only stand and stare
as his master went about finding a suitable position to place the
tree. After setting it up in front of one of the windows, LaCroix
pulled out a couple of ornaments and placed them on random branches.

"Lights," Nick spoke up suddenly.

"I beg your pardon?"

"We should put the lights on first, then the ornaments."

"Oh. Of course. I'm afraid the last time I decorated a tree,
electric lights had yet to be invented. Perhaps you should do the
honors."

Nick accepted the task, but also had to accept lighthearted
criticism when too many of the same color bulbs appeared next to
each other. He was able to retaliate when LaCroix placed identical
ornaments together on the same branches. The playful bickering went
back and forth until the tree was fully decorated. Afterwards, the
two sat on the couch to admire their work and soon began to
reminisce about the good old days. The hours flew by, and they were
both surprised by the chiming of church bells off in the distance
signaling midnight and the beginning of Christmas. They went to look
out one of the windows, watching silently as snow began to fall as
if on cue.

Nick placed a hand on LaCroix's shoulder and gave it a gentle
squeeze. "Merry Christmas, LaCroix," he whispered softly.

LaCroix patted the hand on his shoulder and replied, "Indeed. A
Merry Christmas after all."


And a Merry Christmas to you all! :)

Fran Glass (dynojet@aol.com)
http://www.crosswinds.net/~foreverfran/