My beloved publisher, Renaissance, asked for holiday stories for their annual blog roll. Here’s my contribution. Happy holidays, everyone!
I noticed the battery was a little low on my phone, so I plugged the charger in the socket behind the cash. The bookshop was empty, but for responsibility’s sake, I kept the OPEN sign lit. You never knew if a stubborn blizzard-walker might brave things out and try a little last-minute shopping for their loved ones’ to-be-read piles.
So far, not one patron had crossed the threshold since the storm began mid afternoon. It might have been without soul, but the shop didn’t feel soulless. And though I’m a social creature, it felt nice and cozy here in the silence with the warm evening glow of the ambient lighting against the antique built-in oak shelves. I found myself smiling. I’d been so glad that Renaissance decided to keep the original woodwork when they bought this place. Sure, a lot of our authors wrote futuristic stories, but even a space opera lover like me appreciated that 19th-century bookshop feel. I could almost picture Aziraphale behind the counter, selling our titles.
The welcoming atmosphere also appealed to our local reading and writing community. Our schedule was filled with events: readings, book signings, launches. We had a little café area, too! This space was becoming a beacon for marginalized and indie authors. And while it had those lovely built-ins, renovations had allowed for accessibility. All the books could be found on the main level while only the living quarters were upstairs. And even then, Nat had installed a chairlift on the staircase, which I would find super helpful when I headed off to bed later.
But for now, I was alone. Dead alone. I could often be spooked by the notion of being isolated, yet I reminded myself I was still in the downtown core. Help could reach me if I needed it. Anyway, that was all moot because I was perfectly fine. Anxiety could bite my butt for this evening. Everything was lovely, almost dreamy in its beauty. I adored this shop, its books, the publisher, and the authors I’d grown to know as my family.
My watch buzzed. 9:00 pm. Closing time. I reached for Noola—my rollator—to prop me up. Sitting for any length these days made me stiff as a board. But Noola was always there to my rescue. I grabbed onto her handles and got off the stool. Then I unlocked the breaks and rolled myself over to lock the door.
The street took my breath away as I peered out the glass pane. No footprints to be seen at all, and the soft snow drifts were set in waves, exactly like something out of an idyllic postcard. It was amazing how peace became even more peaceful on Christmas Eve. I wanted Bruce here with me to see it. My eyes stung as I wished with all my might that I didn’t have to spend tonight all by myself. But I’d told him not to risk it. I would never have forgiven myself if he got hurt. So, with a great sigh, I tried to shake off the blues that struck me. It’s only for one evening.
Double-checking the alarm was set and the door locked, I rolled over to the chairlift. I’d placed my pink cane by it earlier. That’ll be good enough to get me around upstairs. Once I parked my caboose in the chair, I hit the controls and up the stairs I went. Whee!
The residence also had that cozy feel, with cream walls peeking out of the same original oak wainscoting. I had a good snicker at the nativity scene in their living room that was composed of Star Wars characters around a Baby Yoda. I switched on the white fairy lights around the great window and sat in a high-back chair. This would be a perfect reading spot. I should have brought up a book from downstairs. Then again, I felt pretty sleepy, so I got up and headed down the narrow hallway where the bedrooms were. Past the master and the boys’ rooms, I spotted a sign on a door that read: “Spoonie Nap Spot!” I giggled. Totally a Nat thing. At least I had my space to crash. I turned the handle and—
What the heck is that? I’d made certain the shop was secure. There couldn’t have been anyone downstairs. Did a shelf loosen?
Um, what? That sounded like a laser blast. Then I remembered I’d left my cell phone plugged in downstairs. I must have also kept on YouTube’s autoplay settings. Sounded like something from a space series. With a huff, I walked with my cane back to the chairlift. At the top of the stairwell, I could make out voices.
“All right, which one of you f**kers is paying for these drinks? How ’bout you, Godzilla?”
“HOLY STARS! You kiss your mother with that mouth? Vivvy, did you hear the way that man just spoke to me?”
I blinked. That’s not a YouTube video. It sounded more like—
Okay, this was getting serious. I decided to squat until I was on my bum, and I slinked down a few stairs. As soon as I could see the shop floor, I thought I’d faint. Standing there, as clear as day, was an over 7-feet-tall lizardman with mauve and grey scales, in a combat uniform, comparing weapons with a human woman dressed in form-fitting black armour. I could discern, even from this distance, the tech in her eye.
Viv? Lexa Blue?
I started to shake and clutched my cane in an attempt to ground myself. A character from my book and one from Stephen’s? No, that wasn’t possible. I mean, I knew I could conjure up great things in my imagination, but I’ve never visually projected images in my entire life.
“Hey! You pick up our table, Godzilla!”
“Nancy, he’s pretty big and scary. Let’s just go to another club.”
“I am not going to another club, Blaine. This is our f**king club!”
“Listen, you nasty little men, I might not know what a Godzilla is, but I am so not going anywhere until you people learn some manners!”
Xax? Nancy? Blaine? Now my other Draga warrior was hanging with Jamieson’s— My mouth went bone dry. Wait a second, The Stealth Lovers, A Congress of Ships, and Love and Lemonade? Are…are the Renaissance books…coming to life?
I inch down a few more stairs. There stood a man eating a burrito by a deathly pale woman in a lab coat who chatted with a brunette named Cassandra whose body was covered in scars. They seemed to be in deep conversation about zombies. I gasped, recognizing them from the covers of Making a Living and Life After Redby.
This was serious. I needed to text Bruce. No, phone 9-1-1. Or maybe just text Bruce. My fingers trembled so violently, I couldn’t tap my watch properly. I decided to just close my eyes and concentrate on my breathing. I was lonely. That was it. Just lonely and perhaps a little anxious. A few minutes of meditation, and everything would return to normal. Now then, deep breath innnn…
“Awww, isn’t that sweet? It has my name on it!”
I exhaled like someone punched me in the back. Not being able to resist, I opened my eyes to witness a woman leaning over my rollator, a short figure with pastel pink skin and flaming red hair that redefined poofy in a monstery way. I knew that hair. It resembled a follicular umbrella. I had seen that orange and blue striped dress before. And there were the red boots with wheels that she wore. The person admiring my Noola was in fact…Noola…from Life in the ’Cosm. My feisty disabled alien who’d helped me conquer my own internalized fears and ableism. Gosh, I wanted to say something to her. But when I opened my mouth, a barely audible squeak came out.
Before I could try again, a cloaked, rotting soul walked across my view and over to join the zombie debate to my far left. Dead Mike…from The Reluctant Barbarian?! Holy crap, wouldn’t John be surprised! I paused. This was all starting to become rather fascinating to me, and I found myself less frightened.
Except when I jumped at the sound of glass breaking as Nancy and Xax continued arguing for dominance over the café.
Lexa Blue’s laser rifle went off. I checked for damage. None. Must be blanks for demonstration purposes. Viv took the weapon from her hand, admiring it, and began to ask her more about the sentient ship she called ’Vrick. He wanted to know if ey could tolerate a pilot with an attitude, thinking of course, of his beloved, Xax. Lexa Blue smirked in reply and said the ship might have possibly handled such a pilot before.
Ugh, more glasses. This place is going to be a mess! I just had to tell Nancy and Xax to cool it. I could do this. I braced myself to stand up. My legs wobbled too much, probably from the shock of imaginary characters acting not so imaginary. When would they leave? I needed to clean up the place before everyone came home.
“Goodness gracious! I am extremely disappointed in your behaviour, Xax especially. You’re supposed to be a noble warrior, and we are guests here!”
My jaw dropped. A humongous daisy tucked their top petals into a kerchief, pulled out a vacuum implement, and started dealing with the shards of glass. He floated about the room in his hoverpot as his different leaves performed various cleaning routines. I marvelled at his alacrity. Must be nice to dust, polish and vacuum all at the same time. Thanks, Sonny. He even ordered the sheepish souls who’d been arguing to set the chairs and tables right again. And they complied!
Satisfied I wouldn’t have to do more than order new glasses for the shop, I searched for Noola—the alien, not my rollator. I found her chirping happily to a dark-haired woman who used a walker. Naya! I beamed. Journey of a Thousand Steps was the very first Renaissance book I ever read! When Naya spoke about how she’d found herself becoming a solver of mysteries, a young voice cried out:
“Mysteries? I solve them all the time!”
“And who might you be?” asked Noola with a tender gaze at the blond teen with a determined demeanour.
Naya extended a hand. “Nice to meet you! Maybe we could collaborate one day!”
Elizabeth from the Baker City Mystery series seemed happy at that. I found myself longing for Madona and Éric to see their creations come to life.
As the night wore on, more and more characters appeared from the Renaissance books. Eventually, I found the courage to go all the way downstairs. I even introduced myself, and everyone was genuinely happy to make my acquaintance. We arranged the tables and chairs in the café section of the shop, and it turned into a fun gathering. Sonny had floated upstairs to the kitchen by way of his hover pot, returning with a lovely arrangement of snacks.
Someone put on music, which made Xax invite Viv to show off their ballroom dancing skills. Rose and James from The Admirer joined them, dressed in a formal gown and tails, respectively. It felt quite the Austenian vignette, in a human versus lizardmen warriors sort of way. But it was so very charming.
When the music stopped, I heard the sound of bells jingling by the front door. I stood up, walked with my cane to make sure the alarm was still set, but noticed somehow a red envelope attached to the inside of the door. I peeled it off, opened it, and read the contents:
I wouldn’t say you’re on top of my good girl list, but I have chuckled at your naughty humour. And as you can plainly see, you’re not alone, Cait. Merry Christmas!
I turned around. Zombies, humans, aliens, wizards, beings from the past and the future filled the room, all enjoying each other’s company. Well, they were now, once Sonia’s Commander Skye realized Xax and Viv were not actually a new form of Daemon hostiles threatening to take over the planet. That had been an awkward minute. But the three of them sat at the same table with Lexa Blue and appeared to get along just fine.
And now it looked like Santa Claus was also real.
Bruce will never believe this. Maybe just keeping one little secret in a marriage isn’t so bad.
Noola approached me in my reverie, then took my hand to guide me back to our table. “I’ve told you all about me,” she said. “It’s your turn now!”
I really do love this little bookshop. It’s quite magical, in more ways than one.
At the stroke of midnight, my watch buzzed with a notification:
With a contented sigh, I texted back:
I stood up at the table, then clinked my water glass to capture the attention of the shop’s occupants. Miraculously, they became quiet.
“Merry Christmas, everybody!” I held up a cupcake as my toast.
“Merry Christmas,” they all said in reply, even the aliens who had no idea what it was.
I sat down again as the conversation and craic continued on. There would be no doubt I’d get very little sleep tonight, but that was just fine with me.
Best Christmas Eve ever!
Author’s note: I am a Renaissance author but also a major fangirl of their authors! If you’re interested in learning more about the books mentioned in this story and even more books, a full catalogue of Presses Renaissance Press titles can be found on their online shop!
Cait Gordon is a disability advocate and the author of Life in the ’Cosm and The Stealth Lovers. When she’s not writing, Cait’s editing manuscripts and running The Spoonie Authors Network, a blog whose contributors manage disabilities and/or chronic conditions. She also teamed up with Kohenet Talia C. Johnson to co-edit the Nothing Without Us anthology in an attempt to take over the world. Narf.