The night was cold, white snow drifting down to coat the frozen grass with a thin mantle of white as he walked away from the Harmony family, celebrating their Christmas together.
As it should be.
He didn't really feel the cold of the air, despite the lightness of his thin white shirt and leather jacket. But the cold of being alone and lonely on Christmas Eve...that he did feel.
And it hurt.
That he had no place to go on this Earth, on this night of all nights, a night meant for home, for family and friends and togetherness, was a source of such pain that he didn't even know how to begin addressing it. He could remember no home. No loving father or mother. No friends, no faithful dog waiting by a fire. For now, at least, they had been wiped from him memory, as if they had never existed.
Not for him.
Sometimes he wondered why he, alone of all of those people he had helped so far (and there was a growing list of them), hadn't been granted a chance to change his own life right from the beginning. Why did he have to endure this 'memory loss' deal? Why, when on his very first 'case', he'd helped Ray Patterson to change how he handled his son's misdeeds and so prevented the fire that had taken his, Smiths, own life...was he still here, standing alone on a cold Christmas night in Tennessee, so far from his own loved ones?
It just didn't seem fair.
Ha. He'd talked to the Judge a couple times about it, and been reminded that life often wasn't fair. 'Fair' just wasn't the point, sometimes. 'Fair' was a changeable concept, often just a matter of opinion from one person to the next. If you wanted 'fair' in the world, you had better be patient.
And sometimes 'fair' just didn't fit into the scheme of life when things needed to be changed.
He knew God had a definite plan for him, and he knew that he was doing important work for the Lord. And he was, actually, happy. How could he not be, when he was surrounded by His love? It wasn't exactly unhappiness that filled his heart at times like this, when he missed his past, his family..more like a vague discontent.
An awareness of ...things missing.
He had been walking steadily, hands thrust deep into his jacket pockets and head down against the sharp touch of the frozen flakes against his face, when he became aware that the ground underfoot had changed.
He stopped and looked about, startled. Instead of a quiet suburban Tennessee street, full of neat lawn, parked cars, and endless rows of cheery light bulbs, he found himself standing on a grassy hillside.
And this grass wasn't the tame, clipped to a fraction-of-an-inch city grass he'd been walking on before. No, this was country grass, wild, tangled, and definitely uncut. It reached almost to his knees in spots, frozen in curls and waves of perfect beauty by the frost. The snow had stopped, or maybe never been, in this place and time. And the clouds above had vanished, replaced by a deep velvety black picked out in sharp pricks of light. Stars, as far as the eye could see, thousands upon millions, more than he had ever in his life seen before. Their clarity and glow were amazing, holding him frozen, head tipped back, wide eyes reflecting the glory above.
/Has it always been like this? I never saw, never knew...God, it's so beautiful!/
Time passed, while he stood entranced by the show.
As he stared, spellbound, he became aware of small, stealthy crunching sounds around him. Wresting his eyes off the glittering heavens, he turned, and found himself face to face with-a deer. Deep dark eyes met his impassively, before the buck (and it was a buck, it had enough tines on it's antlers to qualify for Bambi's great- great granddad) turned it's gaze back to the night sky. Looking about, he saw that the hill had filled up while he had been stargazing. There were several deer, huddled in a group on the big buck's flank. A moose towered behind him, solid black against the sky except for the glimmer of star shine in its eye as it lowered it's head and glanced down at him.
A row of coyotes were grumbling and yipping softly at the foot of the hill, keeping an eye on both the stars and the odd assortment of rabbits, grouse, and other small wildlife that were crouching here and there in the icy grass.
For a moment, Smith could only stare. He'd never been around animals all that much, he thought, or even if he had been, he doubted the list had included quite such a wide variety of wild ones. Likely more like dogs or cats or horses. He looked up at the enormous antlers of the moose again. Yeah, he could really go for a nice, tame horse right about now.
He started to step back carefully, wondering wildly how in heck he'd made the wrong turn into this crazy side of Mayberry. Wherever. This certainly didn't feel like Tennessee anymore. Even the air smelled different, redolent with the tang of northern spruce and pine forests. No, he was far from the South, here.
As he was about to try to ease his way from among the gathered animals, a flash caught his eye, and he glanced overhead. One star was burning brighter than the rest, pulsing with an almost living beat. The animals were utterly motionless now, watching the star silently.
Even the coyotes sat quietly, ears upright as they tilted questioning noses towards the sky
As he watched with them, Smith felt the peace of this special night fill his heart.
He'd been wrong, he realized. Too wrapped up in himself and his own little problems to see the bigger picture.
Christmas wasn't a particular house. It wasn't even being in the presence of family, or good friends. It wasn't really even December 25th, which after all had been chosen by men with poor calendar skills as representative of a certain important day long ago. Christmas was about remembering and worshipping the One who was born on that night so long ago, the One sent from Heaven who had freely died for mankind's sins.
He didn't need to know all about his past to enjoy Christmas. He didn't even need to know his own name. All he needed was the sure certainty that that One whose birth was celebrated on this night DID know all of that, and kept it safe for him.
He wasn't forgotten, or overlooked. No one ever was.
The thought made him smile.
He wondered how many other people had yet to make that realization.
The night continued, the stars wheeling slowly overhead as the Earth turned. And those on the planet with the faith to do so, basked in the light from Heaven, and were happy.