WFOL 2024 Challenge
HEAVEN IS WINTERFEST
by PearlAnn SnowStar
Pansy looked around in awe. With the other children, she followed the adults down the stairs toward the Great Hall. Then everyone stopped. She noticed that Vincent smiled as he said something to Catherine and their children. He turned toward the big doors and removed the huge wooden bolt.
Hard to believe that just two weeks ago, her life had been so bleak.
* * *
It was cold. Pansy looked around and knew she had to find a place to stay. The last shelter she was at suspected she was a child, but it was so busy no one bothered to ask her a thing. That was great, as she got a chance to get warm and get a bite to eat.
Lost in her thoughts, she bumped into a young boy.
“Sorry.” He grinned.
She smiled back at the unusual boy. He was dressed for the weather, but he also looked like he was homeless like her. He was carrying a shoulder bag. It looked like it had candles.
He ran into an alley nearby. Noticing an orange and white candle in the snow, she picked it up and ran after him.
Pansy called out, “Wait. Wait. You dropped this.”
It was then she saw some more children. One of the girls yelled out, “James, you dropped something.”
The boy turned around. He walked towards her with a grin. “Thanks.”
“I’m Pansy. Nice candle.”
“Yeah, thanks again.” He took the candle from her and ran back to the group of children.
The group continued down the alley. Pansy watched them as they turned and went into another back alley. She moved carefully towards them like she was taught by her father. They turned a corner, which led into another alley. To make it look like she wasn’t following them, she paused for a few moments before going around the corner into the alley.
Where did they go?
Looking down at the snow, she could see footprints. She carefully followed those that seemed fresher than the others. The footprints led her to an apartment building. She noticed stairs that went down to a back door.
OK, maybe the door is open?
She walked down the stairs and went to the door. It was locked.
Well, it won’t hurt to knock, will it?
She knocked, and a young girl opened it. Pansy grabbed the door when the girl turned around and ran towards another door. The girl opened that door and closed it behind her. Cautiously, Pansy walked into what appeared to be a laundry room. She walked towards the door that the girl went to. Taking a deep breath, she opened it. It was a storage closet. There were boxes and a bookcase with some items on its shelves, but no girl.
Is she an elf? A fae?
Curious, she looked around and saw the light switch on the wall. She turned on the light, walked in, and closed the door behind her. The door had no lock.
Maybe I can make do and sleep here tonight?
She started to carefully move some boxes around. Looking at the old bookcase right against the wall, she walked up to it. The shelves had a few odds and ends on them. Not knowing why, she tried to move it. It was heavy, but it moved. There was an opening in the wall. A tunnel, dimly lit, but a tunnel! There were sounds of muffled voices, but they faded away.
Looking at the back of the furniture, she noticed a small wooden square that had a rope looped around a knob of some sort. She unwrapped the rope. It was a short rope that hung down. She used the rope to climb down into the tunnel. Holding the rope, she pulled with all her might. The furniture moved against the opening.
Back in place. Clever.
She heard pipes that made noises now and then. It sounded more like a code. Standing on her toes, she reached up to touch one of the pipes with her fingers. It was vibrating and warm.
She followed the pipes into a maze of tunnels. Turning down one, she walked just a few feet and came to a strange wall. Maybe it was a secret panel.
Should I knock? Careful, Pansy. What did Father tell you?
‘Just like gangs, some homeless people have their own turf that they guard fiercely.’
As she pondered what to do next, she heard voices coming down the passageway. Looking around, she couldn’t find any place to hide.
“Pansy?” She turned around. It was the boy who was called James. Standing next to him was another, older boy.
“I’m sorry. I found the secret entrance and thought this would be a nice place to rest.”
“Tunnels can be dangerous,” the older boy said.
“This is Thomas.” James looked at him, then back at her. “Why do you need a place to rest?”
“I can take you back up so you can go home,” Thomas firmly said.
“Look, I can keep a secret.” Pansy was desperate. “I have no home.”
“Family?” James inquired.
“No family. Please, I don’t want to go back to that foster home. It’s not safe.”
“Maybe you can stay with us.” James smiled.
“James,” Thomas hissed.
“It’s OK,” James said. “She found a candle I dropped and returned it to me. I think she’s trustworthy.”
“I really can keep a secret. I just need to find a place to rest and warm up a bit. I won’t tell anyone about the tunnels or the secret opening.”
“Thomas?” James pleaded.
“Wait here with her. I’ll be back.” Thomas turned and ran down the passageway.
Pansy felt fear rising inside of her. “Look, James, I really don’t want to cause trouble. I know that some homeless folk have special places that they don’t want to share with anyone.”
“I’m not homeless.”
Pansy thought fast. “It’s a very cold February and while I could go to some shelters, I have to pretend to be a small adult or teen.”
“How old are you?”
“I’m eleven. If I pull my hood to cover my face and keep quiet, usually the shelter workers pay me no mind. But if they ever found out…” Pansy started to cry.
“Hey, don’t do that.”
Pansy wiped her eyes with the back of her hand. “Sorry, it’s just…just unsafe. They don’t care where they put you and…”
“And what?” The voice was both gentle and strong. She turned to see Thomas standing next to a cloaked figure. She couldn’t see his face or hands.
“Well, my father died this past January. We found an abandoned building and we slept in one of the rooms. We sometimes went to the shelters. Sometimes they asked my father about me. We didn’t like to go to the shelters unless we had to. He told me they would take me away from him. So, we made do like we have been doing for a couple of months. Our first winter on the streets. He wasn’t feeling good that day, yet he insisted I get some sleep and that he would keep an eye out. I woke up and he was…dead. I had to find someone to get him, so I went into this shelter and they got the police. They got my father and then took me to child services.”
She started to cry and looked towards the cloaked figure. “They didn’t even tell me if they cremated him or what they did with him. They just dumped me into a foster home. The couple there gave me bad vibes. It was a place with a lot of kids. I didn’t feel safe there. I stuck it out for a few days, but I couldn’t sleep as the man kept walking into the room where I and the other girls slept. He was a creep. So, when I could, I went back out on the streets.”
The man turned toward the older boy, “Thomas, go let Mary know that we have a guest tonight.” He gently touched the boy’s shoulder and she caught a glimpse of his furry hand.
“Sure.” Thomas nodded his head.
“See, it will be OK,” James said as he touched the top of her hand. She jumped. “Didn’t mean to scare you.”
“I’m sorry, it’s just…” Pansy looked at the cloaked figure. “My name is Pansy.”
“You don’t have to hide. I saw your hand. You’re somebody special, aren’t you?”
“I do not want to frighten you.”
James chuckled. “Vincent, I don’t think you’ll frighten her.”
Vincent reluctantly lowered his hood. Pansy bit her lower lip to avoid gasping. When he looked at her with his blue eyes, she couldn’t explain why, but she felt it was safe to trust him.
“To think this all started with an orange and white candle.” She looked at James. “That’s how I found the secret place. I followed your voices, and when I couldn’t hear you anymore, I followed the tracks.”
Vincent looked at James, who started to fidget. “I dropped a Winterfest candle. She found it and gave it back to me.”
Vincent smiled and turned toward Pansy. “Thank you for finding a lost Winterfest candle and returning it. Seems you were meant to find us.” He put out his hand. “Come.”
Pansy didn’t know why she trusted him. She placed her hand in his.
“How old are you, Pansy?” Vincent asked as he guided her down the tunnels, with James following.
“Eleven, but I’m going to be twelve on February twelfth.”
“Wow!” James cried out. “A golden birthday.”
As they continued down the passageway, she was glad she had finally found a place to stay, at least for a while.
* * *
Pansy walked out of the chamber with James, who led her to another chamber called Father’s Library. She had been in the tunnels for a few days. It felt wonderful to finally get a bath, have a warm bed, and good food. She wondered if she had died and went to heaven. But now, was this the end of being here? Would she be forced to go back Above?
She walked into Father’s Library and noticed Vincent, with his Catherine next to him, Mary, William, who was the cook, and a few more adults. They all stood around Father, seated in his chair with that stern look on his face.
Not a good sign.
Catherine spoke first. “I want everyone to know that I did a thorough investigation on this young lady.” Catherine smiled at Pansy. “Her real name is Penelope Kissington; however, she would like to be called Pansy. That was her mom’s nickname for her, as she loved pansies.”
Pansy gave Catherine a questioning look.
Catherine walked over to her and gently hugged her. “It’s going to be all right.” She held her close as she continued, “Pansy has no home. Just like a young man named Eric, who was welcomed into this community when he was young, with his sister Ellie, giving her to Social Services would not be in her best interest.”
Father turned toward Vincent. “We have decided, “ he looked at Pansy, “that this is your home now.”
Pansy started to cry and hugged Catherine as tight as she could. Home, she found a home.
James cried out “YES!” He started to run toward the entrance to the chamber before turning around. “I’m letting Thomas and everyone know.” He ran out.
Father spoke up. “Penelope…”
“I want to be called Pansy. When mom died, that was what my father preferred to call me.”
“Pansy, then it is.” Father looked at Catherine.
“Her mother died last year, and then her father lost his job…”
Mary spoke up. “None of that matters now.” She walked over to Pansy. “Pansy, Rebecca told me you wanted to help her clean up before Winterfest tomorrow and put some left-over candles away for next year.”
Pansy nodded her head.
“Come then,” Mary took her hand. They walked out of the chamber.
* * *
Pansy could now understand why everyone was raving about Winterfest. The Helpers from Above and everyone from Below were having a good time. She was, too. From the opening ceremony to the music and food. What a magical place.
“If I am dreaming, please let me keep dreaming,” she quietly whispered.
“Not a dream.” She was startled and turned to look behind her. An oddly dressed man with a baseball cap on his head and a big grin stood behind her. Something about him seemed other-worldly. Where did he come from? Why didn’t she hear or sense him? With all the conversations and music going on, she probably didn’t pay attention.
“Kristopher. I pop in now and then. Look, they are about to start dancing.”
She turned towards where he was pointing and saw Vincent and Catherine moving toward an open spot. They started to dance to the music. She noticed their small children giggling as Mary held them close. Other children noticed them, too, also grinning and snickering.
In another corner, Samantha and a young girl named Alice were playing chess. Alice was nice. But quiet. She was one of the children James introduced her to that first night here.
She looked around the room. A tapestry on the wall showed men dressed in medieval armor fighting. Looking up at the candelabra, which had candles instead of light bulbs, she was amazed at how bright it was.
She noticed an older woman talking with Rebecca. She had been told a woman, who was named Narcissa, rarely came to the event. Was that her?
The waltz came to a close and Vincent and Catherine hugged each other. Vincent raised his hand, and it got quiet.
Catherine looked at her and motioned for her to come up and join them. She walked up to her. Catherine had her turn and face the people as she put her arms around her.
“I wanted everyone to know that this special young lady is having her twelfth birthday today. A Golden Birthday. Happy Birthday, Pansy.”
Everyone broke out singing. “Happy Birthday to you, Happy Birthday to you…”
Pansy had tears in her eyes. Maybe that was why she thought she saw her father and her mother standing in the back next to that guy Kristopher. She blinked and looked again. All three were gone. But she knew. Her parents were watching over her. Maybe Kristopher was her Guardian Angel.
After the singing, William boasted loudly, “With the help of some folks getting me the key ingredients, I have a nice German Chocolate Cake to present.”
She could hear everyone cheering. Catherine led her to the dessert table.
“You get the first piece,” Catherine said to her.
Pansy felt so loved. She now knew what Winterfest really was. It was heaven on Earth.