Authors: Darryl Nyznyk
A Tale of Christmas
© 2010 Darryl Nyznyk. Printed and bound in the United States of America. All rights reserved. No part of this book may be reproduced or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic or mechanical, including photocopying, recording, or by an information storage and retrieval system—except by a reviewer who may quote brief passages in a review to be printed in a magazine, newspaper, or on the Web—without permission in writing from the publisher. For information, please contact Cross Dove Publishing, LLC, P.O. Box 7000-97, Redondo Beach, CA 90277-8710.
This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places and events are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events, locations or persons, living or deceased, is purely coincidental. We assume no responsibility for errors, inaccuracies, omissions, or any inconsistency herein.
First printing 2010
To my wife, Loretta, and our daughters,
Laura, Sarah, Julia, and Hannah,
so they will always remember the truth;
To Kelly, Wendy, Kaitlin, Kendall, Jeana,
Alex, Meg, and Autumn, who joined our daughters
as the first to experience this tale; and
To all who wish to live the true peace
and wonder of Christmas.
Jared Roberts was a man—thirteen years old—but a man nevertheless. He reached manhood suddenly, three months after his father disappeared. It wasn’t a conscious decision. It just kind of happened. While his mother, three sisters, and baby brother prayed Joe would return, Jared realized he wouldn’t.
Joe Roberts had left almost a year before—Christmas Eve morning. He was going to pick up some “last minute things,” but he never returned. He simply vanished.
By nightfall, Jared’s mother, Mary, was frantic. Joe had never gone off without telling her. Although she tried to hide her fear from the kids, she couldn’t. Soon they were all worried.
When Mary called the police, they didn’t show much interest.
“Your husband’s a grown man. He’s only been gone a day, hasn’t he? Give it some time,” they’d said. But by the end of
the Roberts’ family’s worst Christmas ever, the police had to agree something was wrong.
The day Jared became a man, he decided the reason his father wasn’t coming back was because he was dead. Although no one had found a body, Jared knew that was the only answer. He figured nothing else could keep his dad away from the family.
“Responsibility, son,” Joe always said to Jared. “We don’t run from responsibility. We take it head on and stick together as a family. No one will take care of us, and we should never expect anyone to. We take care of ourselves.”
Joe would never leave his family like so many other fathers from the Sink had left theirs. “The Sink” was the name even the residents of the slums of East Penford used when referring to their part of town. It was the lowest point, by elevation, and, everyone agreed, it was the area to which all the filth drained. None who lived outside the Sink dared venture within its borders, and most who lived inside spent their lives trying to escape. Joe Roberts dreamed of leaving the Sink; but the dream always included his family. Joe wouldn’t leave without the family because he wasn’t like the other fathers. He was proud, and he was strong. Most importantly, though, Joe was responsible. That’s why Jared believed Joe was dead. He’d be with his family if he wasn’t.
Jared took his father’s instruction to heart; he stepped up
when his family needed it. He took a part-time job sweeping the factory floors at Stone Industries after school. That was the company for which his father had worked. The little money he earned helped Mary, who worked two jobs of her own while Jared’s nine-year-old sister Amanda took care of the five-year-old twins and two-year-old Billy after school.
For the first several months Jared wore a brave face. His siblings cried and asked for “daddy,” but Jared never did. He was tough, a street kid who could handle anything. He figured part of his job was to hold the others together and show them he could be strong for them. But something started to happen around Halloween.
Jared hated the work at the factory. It didn’t pay much, not enough to make a difference anyway, and he began to realize he didn’t like all this “responsibility” stuff if it meant long hours of school and work with only a few pennies to show for it. To make matters worse, he heard comments and noticed the looks from the others at the factory. While the looks had been there all along because, he figured, they felt sorry for him, whispered comments about his father took him back to the day, three days before his father disappeared, when he overheard his parents talking in hushed, urgent tones.
Jared peeked into the kitchen that day and was shocked to see his father crying. He pulled back sharply behind the
wall and slumped to the floor. He barely heard his father explaining that he’d been fired from his job at Stone Industries. The words didn’t mean much to Jared at the time, but now they meant everything.
Whether Joe was dead or he had done the unthinkable and left the family, Jared suddenly understood the reason. His father disappeared because the company at which he’d worked for ten years fired him less than one week before Christmas. The comments Jared was hearing were that Joe had been fired because he’d stolen from the company. Jared knew that wasn’t true. He would have known it even if he hadn’t heard his father’s tearful denial because he knew his father. Joe Roberts would never steal…or would he…if the family really needed it?
The fact was that Stone Industries had ruined Jared’s life. It chased his father away, made his mother work two jobs, and forced him into a never ending cycle of meaningless work that paid him nothing. The family was in need because of the wrong done to his father. It was a terrible need as Christmas approached again. Jared knew what he had to do, and he was angry enough to do it.
It was on a bitterly cold night less than a week before Christmas that he met the other members of his gang in the town’s abandoned rail yard. They were meeting to finalize a plan Jared had been working on since Halloween. The thirteen
-year-old man stood before the glassless window frame of the old depot and stared up the hill to the lights of Penford Heights.
OUTSIDE the depot a boy skittered amidst moonlit shadows of rusted railcars. At the ramshackle building the boy hesitated, glanced cautiously about the grounds, and slipped through the battered entry. Inside, wayward beams of moonlight illuminated the fire-ravaged remains of the once-thriving station. The boy spied two figures crouching in the darkness behind Jared, who was pointing to a large Christmas-lit house on the hill.
“That’s it, guys…Jonas Stone’s house,” the boy heard Jared say as he slunk in and sat down next to the other two.
“Sorry I’m late,” whispered the boy. Michael “M.J.” Johnson was a short, skinny twelve-year-old who came by the nickname “M.J.” because of his love of basketball and his dream to someday be like Michael Jordan. “My dad came home tonight. He’s tearin’ our place apart…” his voice trailed off to silence as Jared turned and stared hard at him through the gloom.
“We don’t need excuses,” Jared said. “You gotta be here if you wanna be part of us.”
Jared’s look withered M.J., but he held his head up and nodded. Jared turned his attention to the boy next to M.J. “What’d Hank say, Hammer?”
Hammer was Joey Rodriguez, a big, strong thirteen-year-old who fashioned himself the best baseball player in the world, next to Jared. Next to Hammer sat Roger “Burner” Claiborne, another skinny boy, taller than M.J. and the fastest runner of all, next to Jared, of course.
“The party’s on the twenty-second,” Hammer answered.
“How’s he know that?” Jared asked.
Hammer smiled. “The maid. He got it from the maid. She’s got the hots for him.” M.J. and Burner started to giggle until they realized Jared wasn’t laughing. “She’s working at the party,” Hammer finished after shoving M.J. and Burner.
“Did he give you a layout of the house?” Jared asked.
Hammer reached into his pocket and withdrew a folded paper. “Yeah…but he wants a cut. He says he’ll get us if we stiff him.”
“He’ll get his cut. Let’s see it,” Jared said. He, Hammer, and Burner leaned in to view the plan in the moon’s dim light. M.J. held back, fidgety and unsure.
“Hey…Jared…guys…I don’t know. I don’t know if this is such a good idea.”
“Whatsa matter, M.J.…scared?” jeered Burner.
“I’m not scared.… It doesn’t seem right.… I mean, it’s not ours,” M.J. stammered angrily.
Burner and Hammer squawked like chickens. Jared pushed Burner and said, “Shut up, you guys.” He turned to M.J., “Whose is it?”