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Royal Gazette Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest

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The Royal Gazette's Christmas Short Story Contest has been running now for over half a century. Through the years writers of all ages have sent in their stories so that now the contest is without a doubt a great tradition.

In fact a number of writers first put their stories in when they were school children and now send in their stories as adults with kids of their own.

And starting last year it was decided that this great Bermuda Christmas tradition would honour the memory of a Bermudian cultural icon.

The contest was named after the late Dr Stanley Ratteray.

Royal Gazette editorial consultant Tim Hodgson said Dr Ratteray, a dentist by profession and the Island's first Education Minister under the Westminster political system, had long recognised that encouragement of the arts nourished the roots of Bermudian culture.

Mr Hodgson said last year in announcing the name change: “2013 marks the tenth anniversary of Dr Ratteray's death so it is fitting to commemorate his many contributions to Bermuda's people — particularly our young people — by linking his name to a long-standing competition for creative writing, one which has always strived to promote both upcoming talent as well as the Island's cadre of established fiction writers.”

A longtime director of Bermuda Press Holdings Ltd, parent company of The Royal Gazette, Dr Ratteray served on this newspaper's board from 1988 until his death in 2003.

Dr Ratteray was renowned for his passion for the arts and culture in Bermuda. Along with the late Sir Dudley Spurling, he established the Bermuda Arts Council and the Bermuda National Trust.

He was also one of the founders of the Menuhin Foundation, served as chairman of the Bermuda Musical and Dramatic Society (BMDS) for three years and did a six year stint as chairman of the Bermuda Festival.

Along with his daughter Aideen Ratteray Pryse — who helped to judge last year's and this year's Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest — he was also an early driving force behind the Bermuda International Film Festival.

“Dr Ratteray shared the poet Robert Frost's view that a country which ignores its artists, writers and creators risks having ‘nothing to look backward to with pride and nothing to look forward to with hope',” said Mr Hodgson.

“For more than 50 years, the Christmas Short Story Contest — which encourages entries built around specifically Bermudian themes, customs and traditions — has sought to foster the creative spirit in children and adults alike.

“In its own way, the contest exemplifies Dr Ratteray's overriding ambition to stimulate the arts, literature and creative activity among Bermudians and Bermuda residents.”

Dr Ratteray made his debut in Bermudian public life shortly after returning to the Island from Montreal's McGill University in 1957. As a founding member of The Progressive Group in 1959, he helped to strategise and coordinate the campaign which led to the desegregation of theatres, and other public places. He later joined the Committee for Universal Adult Suffrage (CUAS) which succeeded in achieving the extension of the franchise to all registered voters 21 years and older.

He was a political advisor at the first Constitutional Conference in London in 1966 which drafted the Island's current political and legal framework and helped to found the United Bermuda Party. Appointed to the Legislative Council (now the Senate) after the 1968 general election — the first held under the new two-party political system — Dr Ratteray presided over the desegregation of Bermuda's public schools as Education Minister.

“Stan Ratteray was the single most generous individual I have ever had the privilege of knowing,” said Mr Hodgson. “He was unfailingly generous with his time, with his talents and with his counsel and all Bermudians, to one degree or another, were beneficiaries of his largesse. Given Christmas is the season of generosity, graciousness and giving, I think it's singularly appropriate that we are going to be celebrating both his life and his lifelong mission to nurture the arts at this time of year.”

The winners were awarded their prizes on December 16, with Dr Ratteray's daughter, Aideen Ratteray Pryse, presenting.

The winners were:

Adults

1st & Overall winner Patricia Barboza

2nd Rachel Sawden

3rd Susana Pimentel

Honourable Mention Maximillian Decker

Honourable Mention Dionne Tuzo

Honourable Mention Ben Winfield

18 and Under

1st Ebony Knight

2nd Fae Sapsford

3rd Tylasha DeSilva

Honourable Mention Isabelle Dutranoit

Honourable Mention Celia Harris

Honourable Mention Taj Donville Outerbridge

12 and Under

1st Katie Grainge

2nd Iannah Caines

3rd Malay Robinson

Honourable Mention Matthew James Paul Elliott

Honourable Mention Ellie Coleman,

Honourable Mention Chasity Armstrong

* * *

“Fortune's Fate” by Patricia Barboza

Twelve-year old Lilly Brady sat curled on a couch, comforting her two cats in the living room of her grandparents' home, as Hurricane Gonzalo bore down, on the tiny island of Bermuda. It was the second storm, in the last week, to have wreaked its wrath on the 20-mile Atlantic atoll.

She had been looking forward to Christmas, with her sister, Penny May, coming home from school in England, but wondered what damage and bad memories these storms might bring. She also worried about her five pet chickens in their coop outside.

The Island was in the midst of the economic downturn, as faced the rest of the world, but it had affected her family directly, as her father had lost his construction job, forcing them move in with his parents while he tried to find work.

The house shook, and windows rattled, reminiscent of the Wizard of Oz.

First, Hurricane FAY, predicted to pass without much of a local effect, had actually become more intense, causing considerable damage, to all parts of the Island.

The PGA Grand Slam of Golf which had been scheduled to be held, just after the passing of Fay, required the local committee to perform colossal recovery efforts, to ensure that Port Royal Golf Course was restored to near perfection, in time. Their monumental hard work proved successful, and it turned out to be an extremely successful event, in spite of the storm's thrashing!

Without power recovery, and with thousands of Islanders still being affected, a second hurricane, Gonzalo also changed course, passing directly overhead, and inhabitants hunkered down, once more, to face a Category 4 attack.

It was a more dangerous and powerful storm, but, as the evening progressed, the winds subsided.

Lilly's father exclaimed: “It's the eye!”

Her parents ventured outside, cautiously, finding that their 50-foot Indian Laurel tree had been uprooted, and was blocking the main estate road. Her father and other neighbours cut the branches with chainsaws, clearing a path, in case of emergency escapes. Uncertain of how long the eye would be in effect, with winds picking up again, they retreated till the storm had passed.

Lilly discovered that the chicken coop had been destroyed, and the chickens were terrified. She pleaded with her parents to let her bring them inside, and they agreed, putting them into cat carriers. As chickens normally roost at night, they slept peacefully. The second part of the storm was more intense and raged till dawn, before passing.

On surveying the aftermath, they had survived any serious damage, except for the chicken coop, the immense tree's demise, and bushes being scattered. However, Lilly, saw that their beautiful avocado tree, which her grandmother had planted from a seed, and which had produced fruit for many years, had also gone down, covering the ground with hundreds of avocados.

Although saddened, her grandmother asked Lilly to fill bags for themselves, and to give to others. In gathering them, Lilly noticed that the scrambled bushes now revealed an outside stone fireplace, surrounded by a pile of old bottles. She called her father to view her discovery.

He explained that the previous land owner had men working for him, who used that fireplace, for work breaks, and probably just threw all their bottles there. Among them, Lilly saw a large green bottle, still intact, which she pulled out of the pile. It had a piece of paper inside. Her father managed to remove the contents with a stick. It was a parchment roll, tied in a gold ribbon!

“It's a message in a bottle!” Lilly smiled, excitedly.

Her father unrolled it, and read it to her.

It said: “You've found me out, at last! I hoped someone would!”

“I don't know when this will be found, but I hope you can still remember ‘Teddy Tucker', one of Bermuda's most cherished citizens, and a true ‘Marine Treasure' to the Island.

“He was a knowledgeable, invaluable person, and also one of a kind, to the whole world!

“You must recall that the most memorable treasure he ever found, in his underwater discoveries, was a gold and emerald cross, which had been on display at the Aquarium for many years. However, when Queen Elizabeth visited the island in 1975, it was being moved to the Dockyard Museum, and it was discovered that the real cross had been stolen and replaced by a perfectly-duplicated replica!

“The real cross has never been found! It has always been one of Bermuda's most unsolved mysteries … until now!

“I am the thief!! I am the one who has been sought for all these years!”

Lilly looked at her father with amazement!

He continued reading.

“At first, I was thrilled at my coup d'état, but afterward, I became fearful of the consequences of my action and wanted to rid myself of that possession. So I hid it, and have never revealed the location hoping that someone might accidentally retrieve it … for Teddy's sake. He didn't deserve my regrettable action. So, now, at last, tou could be the Island's hero! And, I hope you'll get your just reward!

“However, you must still hunt for it!!

“I'll give you your clues — which you'll have to use …

“It's quite nearby, but not in the sky,

“… Not in the sky,

“Not on land,

“But very close,

“And right at hand!

“It's hidden very carefully,

“Just where your ‘Reward' will be!

“The cross is in your hands now! Not mine!!”

The family had all come over to listen to the message.

“What should we do?” Lilly queried.

Her mother replied: “Well, I think we should all go inside and have breakfast and rest for a while. It's been a long, harrowing night!”

They all agreed.

After a necessary break and some refreshments, Lilly was still anxious to take some action, even though her grandmother had warned that they shouldn't get too excited, because it could all be a hoax.

The others were all still exhausted from the storm's fury, and since they still didn't have power or phones, they decided to rest their minds and postpone any action temporarily.

Of course Lilly just couldn't wait, so she went to the bookshelf and found their copy of Teddy Tucker's book, which he had signed for her sister who was studying Marine Biology.

It was a big heavy book which she had skimmed through when they first had received it, but she decided to search more thoroughly for any idea which might help her to decipher the thief's clues.

By lantern light she read all about his childhood and love of the oceans and how he became a master of all of them.

The following day, Mr Brady contacted the “Tree Man” and asked him to come and remove all of the chopped logs that remained. With the help of three men, he removed everything, except for a few branches which Lilly's father wanted to repair the chicken coop.

Even though their Island had experienced two such devastating storms, Bermudians always managed to make the best of their situations, and they went about decorating and getting ready for their Christmas celebrations.

Lilly's sister, Penny May, arrived that evening on the British Airways flight.

On the drive home, the family filled her in on all the happenings of the last weeks including the cross hunt.

“Have you had any ideas yet?” she queried.

“No, not yet,” Lilly replied. “Would you like to see the clues?”

“Naturally! A fresh outlook might be just the ticket!”

Lilly handed her a copy, and she read it carefully engrossed in speculation.

As they rounded the corner near their home, Penny Fay remarked: “Wow! It's so bare without that big tree, but I'm so glad the house survived! What kind of a tree was it? I never knew.”

“An Indian Laurel,” her father replied.

“Hmmnn …” she reacted positively to his answer. “Where have you sent it?”

“The ‘Tree Man' removed what was left of it yesterday.”

“Why?” her father questioned.

“After absorbing those clues, I had an ‘epiphany'!” Penny May answered.

”But, you might not to want to hear it!” che smiled coyly, with a ‘university student' look on her face.

All eyes were upon her, as Lilly eagerly said “Yes!!. Tell us!”

“Well, he (or she) had told you the location …, but I'm afraid it's of no use to you, now …”

They all looked at her self-satisfied face….

“Why??” Lilly pleaded

“Did you notice how the clues kept mentioning your reward?”

“Not really,” her dad replied.

“What is another word for ‘reward'?”

“Prize?” Lilly spoke quickly.

“Another one is: laurel,” Penny May answered sanctimoniously.

“It was in that Laurel Tree, probably in a knot or a nest of sorts!”

“But, now, I'm afraid you've sent the cross to the ‘dump'!!!”

... And so the irony goes … from under the sea, back into the soil … or soiled earth waste! — perhaps to be found once again, one day, by another Teddy … in space!

* * *

“It's Not a Dream Christmas” by Ebony Knight

“Come quick, Momma!” I called to my mom from my room.

I heard the clattering of metal on metal and the stomping of feet before my mother appeared at my door.

“What's wrong?” she asked.

I didn't answer, I just pointed out the window. Cautiously, my mother glanced in the direction I was pointing in. All of the elation drained out of her eyes as her expression dropped. Each of us having equal awe at what we saw.

A blanket of snow, at least eight inches thick, I estimated, piled up in the streets in front of our apartment. We were both in utter stupefaction at this phenomenon. The two of us painstakingly came to realise that we wouldn't be able to return to our humble Island abode for Christmas, for we'd been snowed in.

“Momma, I don't think we'll be able to go home for Christmas,” I stated, though it was evident. I tried to make her feel better, for I knew she was fragile, and tended to take things to heart. “But that might not be so bad. We could have fun.”

“Hanna, sweetie, I know you're trying to make me feel better, but we've been caught in a blizzard thousands of miles from home a week before Christmas and we haven't even picked your sister up yet. Thanks for being optimistic, though. You're a sweetheart Hanna.”

She patted me on my head and then went back into the kitchen. I sat on my bed and stared at all the snow piled on the sidewalk and sighed. This trip has been nothing but chaotic. Originally, the trip was only to pick up my sister, Carmen, from her college in Atlanta, do some shopping, then go back home. But we ran into some unexpected occurrences.

Our plane was delayed two hours and we almost missed it because mom had to use the bathroom. To make things even worse, we had to rent an apartment because our hotel was fully booked out. Then, Carmen wasn't at her college when we got there. We were waiting for three whole hours for Carmen to come out; which she never did. I was about to go inside to see what the delay was when Momma got a call from a concerned Carmen wondering where we were. She was at the airport in Boston! Meanwhile, we were three hours away at her college. Carmen decided that she'd stay at a friend's house and we'd pick her up from there the next day after we were done shopping. Then, whilst we were shopping all of our bags went missing! Lastly, the snowstorm, which ended the line of unplanned for incidents.

“Brrrinnng!” the house phone rang angrily.

“I got it!” I hollered out to Momma, who was still fooling around in the kitchen.

I picked up the phone and held it up to my ear. “Hello?” I answered.

“Hullo?” I heard Carmen answer in her unmistakable Bermudian accent. “Hanna?”

“Carmen?” I was so glad to hear from her, as I feared she was outside stuck in the snow.

“It's so good to hear your voice! I was worried the snowstorm had you stuck outside in the freezing.”

“What? Are you crazy? C'mon Hanna.”

I laughed, relieved my wonderful sister was safe and warm.

“Hanna?” Momma called from the kitchen, “Who's that?”

“Just Carmen.” I responded.

“Poor Momma! I know she really wanted to be home for Christmas. Is she holding up all right? She's not still mad about me not being at school is she?”

“Yeah, she's a bit upset, she really wanted to be back home. Nah, she got over that.”

“Tell her I said hello.”

“Momma, Carmen says to tell you hello.”

“Hi, Carmen.” She responded.

“I've got to go, but I'll call you back later, okay?”

“Yeah, okay. I love you.”

“Love you, too. Tell Momma I love her.”

“Yup, bye.”

“Bye.”

I hung the phone back on the hook and walked in the kitchen. Momma was sitting at the table with a cup of coffee in her hand, staring blankly out the window at all the snow. I sighed, wishing I could do something to make her feel better. Momma heard my sigh and whipped her head around in my direction.

“Oh, Hanna, I didn't hear you come in. Have a seat. Do you want some hot chocolate?” she offered.

“No, no. I'm all right, thanks for the offer, though. Carmen said she loves you.”

She smiled and sipped her coffee. “How is she? Did she make it inside before the snowstorm came?”

“Yeah, Carmen's fine. She called to make sure we were all right.”

“That was sweet of her. I called the airport and they said they'll be sending planes out as soon as the runway's clear and the snowing stops.”

“That's great! So we'll probably be home for Christmas?”

Momma nodded, tears brimming her eyes. I jumped up and hugged her.

“Why are you so happy? There's still a slight chance that we'll be here for Christmas,” asked Momma, confused.

“Why not? The series of unfortunate events that have occurred since our departure from Bermuda, our arrival in this country and now haven't affected my unfathomable sense of optimism.”

Momma smiled and hugged me. “Hanna Annamarie Trott, you are without a doubt, the most inspirational person I've ever come into contact with.”

“How can I be inspirational without an inspiration? I asked looking at her. A single tear ran down her cheek. She wiped it away, gave a watery smile and ran her fingers through my auburn curls.

“I love you,” she whispered.

“Oh, but I love you.”

***

“Carmen, let's go!” hollered Momma, honking the horn.

We sat in the car outside Carmen's college buddy's house, waiting for her to come out. She turned on the radio and drummed her fingers on the steering wheel. Looking in the rear view mirror, she kissed her teeth at the car coming in our direction. Because she was in the middle of the road, she had to back up into the driveway. Snow littered the sidewalks, streets and roof. I rubbed my hands together and crossed my legs. Although the heater was on, I was still very cold.

“Momma.” I started, “Maybe it's just me but what are tropical-islanders like us doing in this freezing weather? We're going to be sick as dogs when we get back home!”

Momma laughed, “You're probably right. I'm sniffling already.”

Carmen haul-tailing out of the house, lugging her baggage behind her, looking dishevelled. Carmen was relatively good-looking person. She definitely wasn't ugly. Even when her hair was unkempt form not being washed, she still appeared desirable. She had long wavy brown locks and skin the colour of coffee.

She likely just finished packing; she was a disorganised person. She was often the last person to get to things because she was long-winded and

“Go, go, go, go!” she shouted, throwing her bags in the trunk and jumping in the back seat.

“What's wrong?” asked Momma.

“We're running late!” exclaimed Carmen pointing to her watch. “The plane leaves in 20 minutes!”

“Oh, gosh.” Momma slammed her feet on the gas and the tires screeched forward.

Momma skid around the corner, going well over the speed limit, trying with all her heart to catch the plane. She was hoping enough for all three of us. Within a couple of minutes, we arrived at the airport. Momma came to an immediate halt at the door, which I knew wasn't very safe.

Momma went to the desk and threw our passports at the lady. Momma spat out our information without giving the lady so much as a second to say ‘good afternoon'. All she had the chance to do before Momma started talking again was point to the customs exit. Momma consistently did this every time she had to talk to someone behind a desk, including customs.

Relief flushed over me as I sat down in my seat on the plane. I was finally able to relax knowing we had made it.

We landed in Bermuda and immediately, Momma started bawling. This wasn't new to me, she often cried. I love her and all but seriously, I wish she would keep it together.

I know that was one Christmas I will never forget. Ever. Even though we had ample difficulty during the trip, in everything we did, I still loved it. It brought us closer together. Momma decided she, however, will never, so long as she's still alive and breathing, travel to the US or any other country for that matter.

* * *

“Mr Wyndham's Christmas Tree” by Katie Grainge

Huge oceans of water droplets flung from the sky day by day, every hour, minute, second. Wind that seems to come from the ground and heavens at the same time, howling and moaning and whimpering and whistling like an enormous pack of wolves following you everywhere, trying to blow you to pieces and eat you alive. You don't dare open the shutters for fear of the windows blowing in and waking up covered in glass. Trees crash to the ground, backed by a deathly black and grey sky. Our island is thrown haphazardly into an invisible wind tunnel, rollicking and breaking and cracking in the gusts.

“Alice, do you have any idea how to churn curdled butter?” Beth said as she struggled to open our huge wooden door, now fully detached from one of its hinges and soaked through with rain from the hurricane so cold it resembled the frost Uncle Ben wrote to us about in his letters from England.

“Did you actually manage to curdle an entire barrel of butter while I went to check on Mr Wyndham for ten minutes?” I trudged inside, ignoring my sister's disgusted glance at my mud-ridden boots, sprinkled with leaves and bits of branch, evidence of the foliage that had replaced the dirt roads around our neighbourhood.

“It was that awful girl across the street who works for the Wallaces. She came to the door yesterday, saying that her master and mistress had just left for New York and she had an entire kitchen full of food that was going to waste. I didn't want to be rude, of course, so I said we needed some more provisions for the Christmas party today, and now we have three wheels of cheese covered in mold and a barrel of sour milk, not even close to butter! Please remind me never to be so stupid as to hire a fourteen-year-old who plays cruel jokes on the neighbours to look after my own house.”

I sighed as I walked into the drawing room. “Oh gosh, Beth, you're so hopeless. The only amounts of cheese and butter we have are inedible and we don't even have a Christmas tree. No dessert and nothing to decorate. That's hardly a Christmas party, is it?”

Nobody in Bermuda could find a Christmas tree after the hurricane. Usually, since pine trees are rare in Bermuda, Mr Wyndham, the island's main merchant, would bring in a boatful of them from England. But after the Sea Venture's crash landing (well, crush landing) on our island's reefs more than two centuries ago, no ship dares venture into the sea when our tiny island is surrounded by the winds of a hurricane. And of course, today being Christmas Day and the storm having died down only two days ago, the next shipment of trees would arrive well after Boxing Day.

“Speaking of Mr. Wyndham's terrible services, how is he? I heard from Mrs Lindley that the queer man didn't even put wood reinforcements over his windows for the storm.”

“He wasn't there, actually. Neither was his horse and cart, so I assume he's gone to the harbour to sort out some of his trades. Although it seems impossible to get along the roads when they're covered in so much debris.” I followed Beth into the dining room to start hanging up tinsel and mistletoe, although I was sure we'd have to cancel our celebration in favour of a search party. Half and hour later, just before I could choke Beth with a string of bells in order to grab the piece of tinsel that she kept tripping me over with, my friend Meredith knocked at the door.

“This is the most peculiar Christmas I've ever had,' she said as I heaved the door open. ‘Pieces of palmetto, cedar and royal palm leaves have been disappearing off the roads, and the lighthouse keeper has banned anyone from going within fifty feet of the lighthouse. That, and Mr Wyndham has been declared missing.”

“How absurd!' Beth replied, looking out the door in case Jack the Ripper had managed to come from London and was currently running around Paget, randomly kidnapping innocent merchants on Christmas Day. “A bit frightening, too. I'll tell Mother when she arrives back that we need to alert the dinner guests of the predicament and advise that they have supper in their own homes.”

Beth hurried to start dismantling our half-finished red and green wonderland. I suddenly had a thought and whispered to Meredith.

“Look, do you think Mr Wyndham left some sort of note on his door saying where he was, and it got blown off? No one would be so sadistic as to kidnap a person on Christmas Day. You know how loyal he is to Bermuda, and he's always talking about ‘paying homage to the waters around us'. Maybe he's trying to spread the message by fishing for a tuna instead of buying a turkey from one of the farms, and nobody's seen him yet?” Meredith pondered my suggestion and then smirked.

“Of course. Crazy Mr Wyndham. He probably got in the Christmas spirit and went on an impulse boat trip without telling anyone.” We quietly left Beth grumbling while she tried to unhook mistletoe from the chandelier and walked over to Mr Wyndham's house. His manor had been practically pulled apart by the hurricane. There were empty hinges in the door frame, and the door itself was ripped of its expensive lacquered finish, and lay in front of the house as a peeling slab of wood. Only one window was remotely intact; the others looked as a chalkboard looks after an angry teacher has dragged his uneven nails across it to get the attention of his pupils. The limestone roofs of the other houses in our neighbourhood had feebly bared the seething winds. However, the once white, pristine ridges on the roof were crumbling into a huge gape that showed three quarters of the house's wooden roof supports. I wouldn't have blamed Mr Wyndham if he had simply run away in shame and couldn't bear to show his face in our wealthy neighbourhood.

“Look! You were right,' Meredith said, gesturing to a badly affected window on the lower floor. Stuck in one of its huge, jagged cracks was a yellowed piece of parchment, ink smeared from the post-storm showers that had been crossing over the island. I ran to the window and carefully tugged the letter from the glass:

Dear fellow Bermudians,

I hope all of you will join me in finally realising that Bermuda needs her own Christmas tree. Merry Christmas!

Yours Merrily,

Joseph Wyndham

“I wonder if one of the farmers gave him an old turkey as a joke?' Meredith pondered as she read over my shoulder. ‘For this letter sounds as if he obtained a fatal disease and wrote it while he was only half-conscious.” Perhaps Mr Wyndham didn't even write this, I thought. Perhaps … perhaps his crazed kidnapper wrote this to stop people thinking that he had been taken captive!

“Alice? Meredith? Are you coming with us?”

I slowly turned round, puzzled with the letter, and became even more puzzled when I saw Beth standing behind us, backed by all of the residents from the manor houses around us (except the Wallaces — they were actually in New York) holding torches and shawls.

“There's been some very peculiar activity up at the lighthouse,” Mother said as she emerged from the throng of anxious-looking neighbours, having evidently already changed into her Christmas evening gown, which was tucked under her coat, and evidently lacking pleasure in being carted up to an old lighthouse on Christmas night with her former partygoers. ‘Half of the island is going to investigate whether there's any trouble — and search for that unfortunate Mr Wyndham.” Meredith and I exchanged a worried expression and nervously joined the pack of wary — but curious — investigators. Twenty minutes later, we were being pulled up Gibbs Hill in a rickety, unsettling cart.

Almost all of the remnants of stripped trees which had previously adorned the roads like huge limp sprigs of tropical holly had been removed, and I suddenly realised as I gazed at the battered, dripping forests that Bermuda didn't have its own Christmas tree — it didn't have a full, proper green tree that could be decorated and praised and discussed for years afterwards.

And with this realisation, without warning the lighthouse floodlight started circling, enticing everyone to stare at the huge white tower in front of us.

But it wasn't a white tower anymore — it was a beautiful green sculpture, covered in the palmetto and royal palm and cedar leaves and branches from the roads. Baubles and pieces of limestone had been attached to the branches and glowed and turned in the shadow of the huge, ever-circling star which topped the tower.

Of course, inside the star was Mr Wyndham, waving and knowing that Bermuda finally had her own Christmas tree.

* * *

“Scallywag's Christmas” by Rachel Sawden

It was Friday and the fishermen had saved the remains of their freshly filleted haul for their weekly guests. Like clockwork the cats would gather on the dock, waiting for their supper. The fishermen always made sure to keep some aside for one unfortunate feline in particular. With one ear missing, a mess of unruly black fur and a clipped tail, Scallywag's sorry appearance gave away the past he'd rather forget.

He curled his scraggly tail around his body bracing himself as the salty north wind swept across his surly face, hardened by years of being alone. “Winter has come,” he thought to himself. He could feel it in his whiskers.

Winter also came with its own array of smells. Scallywag could recognise the smells of cedar burning in the fireplaces, cassava pies baking and an unusual type of tree always kept indoors that produced a particularly pungent odour. He remembered when he had lived with humans they would decorate it with shiny things. Things so shiny he was compelled to climb the tree and knock them off. He dismissed the memory, remembering the consequences of these actions. He hated winter for more than just the cold.

As usual, on the following Friday Scallywag waited for his supper, however this day there were no fishermen, only the motley crew of hungry feral felines. A storm meant that the fishermen could not leave the shore.

Scallywag slunk away sniffing out any signs of mice or, preferably, a bowl of food outside for some pampered house cat. However, those winter smells, carried by the wind, were throwing him off the scent of his prey. He walked and walked, searched and searched, hoping for game, but the storm had driven them into hiding. He had not realised that he was in a territory he was not acquainted with until it was too late.

He froze, startled by an unfamiliar sight. Beasts five-times his size, unmoving, unblinking, all harnessed together. Carefully, he approached and sniffed.

They smelled unnatural and soon recognised that they were large ornaments that would appear on the grass of the humans' homes at this time of year. Curiosity got the best of him as he explored and sniffed the plastic snowmen, reindeer, and of course, the unnerving representation of the human referred to as “Santa Claus”. Once Scallywag recognised he wasn't real, he felt more at ease. His eyes caught sight of a mouse dashing in the direction of the house, and Scallywag was in pursuit. He could have sworn he heard humans, his hearing not being what it used to be, but his need to eat took precedence. He chased the mouse around the back of the house but it disappeared into a tiny hole in the bottom of the wall. Defeated and worn out, he curled up in the corner for a nap.

Suddenly his eyes flicked open and he saw two humans looming over him. His first instinct was to run, but the humans' hands were too quick for his tired body. Stiffening to their touch he meowed and squirmed in protest, but the humans put him in a box.

Scallywag feared the worst. He found himself trapped in a room with other cats. For days he kept to himself, avoiding the unfamiliar felines and the endless carousel of humans wandering in and out, often taking cats with them. He vowed not to have the same fate. However, the room was a fortress and each escape plan he devised was foiled.

He had been there for so many naps he couldn't keep track of the time. One day, he ventured from his cubby to take a sip of water when an elderly human entered the room. Scared, he looked up at her with wide eyes, as blue as the sea. The humans would say they were his only redeeming quality.

“Oh my goodness,” the human cooed. “He has eyes just like my Arthur.”

Scallywag ran and curled up as small as he could in his cubby, but the human followed. She reached out to touch him, and fearing the worst, he bristled to her touch.

“He's lived a rough life,” The human who had been bringing the food said as she entered the room. “He's not very trusting of humans.”

“I know what that's like,” the elderly human replied as she dragged a chair over and sat next to Scallywag's hideout. She stayed for hours, humming to herself and petting the other cats.

“Could I take him home?” she asked the food bearer.

“I'm sorry, but we've just stopped adoption for the holidays.” She paused before explaining, “Too many people consider cats as stocking stuffers rather than responsibilities. You can take him after Christmas though.”

“May I come back and visit him?”

“Of course.”

For seven days the elderly human returned and sat for hours next to Scallywag's hideout. By the seventh day Scallywag would sleep comfortably, trusting that this human would not hurt him.

“I understand it's your policy, but I'm not looking to gift this cat,” the elderly human said to the food bearer. “It's my first Christmas without my husband, Arthur, and I can't bear to spend it alone.”

The food bearer sighed in contemplation before meeting her eyes again. “We will make this one exception just for you.”

Much to Scallywag's dismay he was placed in a box and taken to the elderly human's home. It was festooned with so many shiny things he could barely keep his attention to devise a plan for escape. He jumped on the sill of the faux-frosted window to see the outdoor world he missed so dearly. To his surprise, beyond the sea of white roofs and before the horizon, he could see the dock. Though the elderly human was kind to him, giving him days upon end of food, pets, and treats, he still waited for his chance to escape, for he thought it was only a matter of time before she would deem him unlovable and become unkind to him.

One night the elderly human opened the door when a group of other humans came to sing to her.

“Now is my chance”, Scallywag thought as he leaped from the windowsill and bolted out the door. Finding his bearings, he walked for the entire night back to the dock.

Later the following afternoon the fishermen were returning from sea, so Scallywag knew supper would be imminent. However, the salty innards didn't taste as good as he'd remembered. The elderly human's food was better. That night settling down to sleep, the unforgiving north wind bore down on him and he felt cold and vulnerable. He had become accustomed to sleeping with both eyes shut. But underneath it all he missed the elderly human. He wanted to see her one last time.

Retracing his steps, he found the house by sundown. Staring into her window he watched her as she sat in her chair clutching a picture frame in her weathered hands. He recognised it; a picture of two humans, one who looked like a younger version of her, and a man with eyes the same colour as his. He could sense her sadness as he watched tears stream down her cheeks. He missed the warmth of her home, the smells, and even the way she would talk to him. It was the same kind way he had heard other humans speak to human kittens.

He turned to take a step to make the journey back to his dock, but hesitated when something caught his eye. There were two stockings hanging from the fireplace, one large one and one small one.

He had spent lives one through four with humans and remembered what stockings were, and what they were for. Scallywag's heart felt like it would burst once he realised one was for him. He barely knew this human but she took good care of him, and only wanted his company in return. He recognised that he brought her happiness. And she him.

In that moment he decided he wanted to spend his ninth life with her.

Scallywag ran to the door and meowed and scratched so forcefully he almost knocked the wreath off.

The door creaked open and the elderly human's eyes lit up once she saw the windswept cat. “You've returned just in time for your turkey and cassava pie.”

After finishing his feast, he and the elderly human sat in front of the fire listening to Christmas carols as she knitted, often glancing at the picture frame and smiling. It even surprised him when he settled into her lap. He relaxed as she paused in her knitting to stroke and groom his matted fur. For the first time in many lives he rolled onto his back and invited belly rubs. As he closed his eyes and purred he finally understood that everyone deserves love, especially at Christmas.

* * *

“Avoidance” by Fae Sapsford

It wasn't Jessica's fault. She was the one who told me three months in advance, a month in advance, a week in advance and now, one day in advance of my imminent deadline. She's a very good personal assistant, Jessica. I couldn't ask for a better one, in fact. It doesn't matter though, I still find myself here, making this call. I think Jessica knows that no matter how much she tries to help me with this, we'll always end up here; waiting for my correspondent in Bermuda to answer, to make sure Winston picks me up in time.

It's not anything illegal; it's just avoidance. That's a nice word for it, just like in high school when you'd not talk to a kid you didn't like — it's exactly the same. I'm just making my situation a little more comfortable, that's all. Jessica knows this, and she accepts it. Well, maybe it helps that she can afford to visit Hermès and buy a new handbag every weekend, but, regardless, we understand each other. She understands that I've got to skip a few taxes so I can continue to do what I do best, and I understand that she knows me better than anyone, and could probably make my life choices better than I ever could.

9:47pm. I rub my eyes with my thumb and forefinger and trail my hand over my face. There's stubble on my chin and I feel how I imagine a sailboat that's stranded on a beach must feel. I am in a shiny Bentley, the lights from the city reflecting off the car's body, and Louis, my driver, is speeding because we have to get to the airport before 10. Jessica is beside me and she's got that look on her face where I know she's just bursting to tell me something, but I've got that look on my face where I'm too tired to listen just now.

I didn't pack much, even though I'll likely spend about a month in Bermuda. I have domicile there, and to maintain it I have to spend a certain amount of days there per year, yadda, yadda, yadda. I save a ton by being a “resident” there. It's a quaint little place, but more importantly, a tax haven. Let's just say I'm the owner of a very big and very successful corporation, and the US tax system steals from it. They're the ones forcing me out; it's really not my fault at all. Right?

Anyhow, Winston, the pilot of my jet, says he's got a prime departure time. They shifted a few flights back just for us. Isn't that nice? To fly from New York City to Bermuda only takes about two and a half hours, that's part of the reason why I chose it over Monaco or any other suitable place. It's a good job I did, too, because I've got to get there before midnight tonight. Winston's the wisest guy I know and he's great at his job. He's never failed to get me back on time, not once.

When you're a kid, a private jet seems like the be all and end all of a billionaire (not suggesting that I am one, not suggesting anything at all exactly), but once you actually have one it's not that exciting. It's just a necessary side effect of the life you lead; it's imperative that you have one so that you can fulfil your schedule, not so you can show it off to your friends. And now I'm making having a private jet seem like a chore. It's not, I'm just saying that it's like a personal assistant, or the fact that you can't get to your son's graduation on time because you're still in a meeting half way across the country — it's just part of the job.

Once we're on the plane and in the air Jessica finally caves.

“You do know what today is, right Andrew?”

“Enlighten me,” I say, but I know full well what she's getting at. I just don't want to address it.

“It's Christmas Eve,” Jessica says, sceptically, because she knew exactly what I was doing.

“Is that right?” I act uninterested.

“Yes,” is all she says, and the word hangs there anxiously, like a dress on a washing line secured with only one clothespin.

“I think they have Christmas in Bermuda too, Jessica. There's nothing to worry about,” I say eventually, grinning. Jessica is having none of it.

“Maybe you'd like to call Amanda…?”

“No,” I say, a little too quickly, “no, I don't think that will be necessary.”

11:23pm. We are over the Atlantic and I'm trying to convince myself that I'm not running away from anything besides my taxes. Maybe there are dolphins and rays and swordfish beneath us right now. I've made the right choices in my life, haven't I? I've given Jessica a job. I've provided for my family. I've done everything someone is supposed to do. Who knew that Jesus had a winter birthday?

The sky is pitch black outside the jet and the cabin lights are dimmed. I'm tempted to sleep but I find myself unable to, slumped in my chair and drowsy, but stubbornly awake. My mind drifts to my son, Jake, who is probably in bed now. He is 17. Amanda, his mother, is probably still awake. She likes to go for walks at night-time and there is a safe park near our house that she is probably walking in right now. She still does the whole filling of the stockings thing of course, she's like that — always holding on to the magic and mystery of life, even if it's artificial. I should call her and tell her I won't be home, but I don't. I got Jessica to fix up some presents for them and they should be under the tree already, waiting for the morning to unwrap them. I wonder if my stocking will be filled?

I don't know how I grew apart from her.

A few minutes later, it seems, Jessica is shaking me awake. She says that we've landed now, at 11:58 — with two minutes to spare. I jump up at that and pump my fists in the air comically. Looking out, I remember that Bermuda's not nearly so abrasive as New York when it comes to lights — Bermuda's like a Christmas tree I suppose, and New York's like a car's high beams.

On the way to the Princess I'm wide-awake, and in no time at all I'm checked in and flopping down on my bed. Distances are so short here; I forget until I come back and it's pleasantly surprising. I figure I should probably check my e-mails one last time before I sleep. I note that a mini candy cane has been left on my pillow. How sweet.

It reminds me of when I was here around Christmastime a few years ago. Jake is on my shoulders and we're in front of city hall in Hamilton city. It's not cold at all, but many people beside me are bundled up as if they're going on an Arctic expedition, all with their children equally swaddled. Everyone is chatting enthusiastically, and suddenly sleigh bells begin to jingle and a loud ho-ho-ho! echoes over the roof of the great building.

“There he is, do you see him Jake?” I say, pointing. Jake squeals and starts to bounce up and down.

Amanda is next to me, smiling, and when Jake starts to squeal she squeezes my hand and grins at me. She's wearing this lovely blue-green scarf and hat and she just looks stunning. Santa, who is on the roof, starts to throw down candy canes to the kids, and their squealing grows louder.

Jake wants to get down at this point because he wants to sneak through people's legs and collect as many candy canes as he can. I tell him to be ruthless and bring back a few for us. Amanda must have laughed as he rushed off, and I took the opportunity to lean in and kiss her, first on the nose and then briefly on the lips.

The memory ends like a movie and I'm ripped out of it. Returning to reality, I realise I'm sitting there in my room with a plastic-wrapped candy cane in my hands, tapping my foot a little. Before I can think about it and convince myself otherwise, I take out my iPhone and dial Amanda. It's ringing.

It's ringing.

Then — “Hello?”

“Hi Amanda,” I say, “it's Andrew.”

* * *

“Missing ... Cassava!” by Iannah Caines

An eerie winter wind, sounding like a choir of ghosts, howled through the opening in the trees which surrounded old Belmar Cottage. The multicoloured outdoor display of lights, which outlined the eaves of the house next door, clanked together as they were blown about by the wind. As darkness fell, a cloak of mist could be seen over Hamilton Harbour, making it hard to see the blinking lights on the houses along Harbour Road. The long, nimble branches belonging to the old timber creaked as they rubbed against one another. The night became darker and crisp, and blankets of hail covered the ground and trees. Mom was in the kitchen preparing her free range turkey and I couldn't help but hear her say, “I hope nothing has happened to my Cassava.”

A week earlier, on December 17th, our neighbour's son Tilley was the last person to have interacted with our eggshell coloured feline which hasn't been seen since that day. Tilley was very upset because he loves when the cat greets him after school and rubs his warm fur against Tilley's legs. Not a day would pass, since the cat's disappearance, without Tilley saying, “Here kitty kitty, here kitty kitty! Where are you?”

Even with a poor quality picture of the cat pasted on just about every pole in the area, Mom still hopes that her Cassava would be found soon. In the picture, the cat is enjoying a scratch behind her cute ears by young Tilley who just finished his first term at Heron Bay School. A contact number and e-mail address is also included with a plea for help with the search of Mrs. Baker's beloved cat.

Meanwhile, for Cassava, finding a bite to eat isn't a problem as her keen sense of smell is leading her to chicken scraps galore in just about every garbage can she manages to rummage through. Her trail of muddy paw prints indicates that the feline is visiting ‘Random Lane.' Cassava is becoming a bit concerned that she has wondered from parish to parish in Bermuda in one week, and she is now beginning to miss her familiar surroundings. “I must be far from home now,” muttered Cassava. A warm tear drizzles down her cold muzzle as she lazily takes another step up the elevated road. A cry of laughter rings out from the lane ahead. Cassava becomes curious and cautious, and slowly creeps up the hill to see what is happening on the roadway adjacent to Random Lane. She glances around the corner and sees a congregation of neighbourhood cats conversing with one another and lazing around. A smoky grey cat has the attention of the other cats.

“Hey, I wish you guys would have seen the look on this woman's face today! She was all decked out in her Sunday best with her heels on, and she was carrying a bag of gifts. She stepped outside her door and was walking to her car with her keys jingling in her hand; her head was high in the air, looking up at an aeroplane and its contrail.”

“And?” interrupted a brown tabby cat.

The smoky grey cat resumed, “Well, she took another step forward and didn't see what I had left behind. Her heel was spared, but her toes weren't. I can't even describe the look on the woman's face. I won't even repeat the word that came out of her mouth. All I can say is that it wasn't a word in a Christmas song.” They all erupt in laughter and don't even notice Cassava.

Cassava is crouching under the front of a car which is parked along Khyber Pass near the church. A Christmas Eve service is in the midst with harmonious carols being sung. Cassava is reminded of home and is now homesick. She is longing for the little five year old boy to scratch behind her ears … she misses Tilley. It isn't long before Cassava is noticed by the owner of the car she is resting under. Instead of Cassava running away, she purrs and creeps out from under the car, slowly stretching her paws out in front of her. She rubs herself against the legs of the owner and says, “Meow!”

“It certainly doesn't look like you're a stray with that collar around your neck. Let me see if you have a name. Cassava … who names a cat Cassava?” Luckily there is also a phone number beneath Cassava's name. Into the car Cassava goes with the owner, along the street they drive until they reach the owner's residence. The owner dials the number on his phone and a voice on the other end answers his call.

“Hello, this is the home of the Baker's!”

“Yes, hello there! Are you by any chance missing Cassava this Christmas Eve?”

Mrs Baker thinks someone is playing a prank on her so she just listens without answering the question. She has her mind on baking her pound cake and cassava pie and is preoccupied with preparing her holiday meal.

“Are you missing a cat? I am Mr Burgess and I found Cassava sleeping under my car at Khyber Pass, Warwick.”

“Oh my dear … you found my Cassava … thank you, thank you, thank you! Where are you now? I can collect her from you if it's not too late for you because I am anxious to have her back in my arms … I miss her so much! This is the best news and having her back is the best Christmas present I could ever receive!”

“I'm in Paget near Modern Mart, behind the Church with the illuminated nativity scene which is displayed. Where do you live?” Mr Burgess asks.

“Wonderful … I'm a five-minute drive away on Hibiscus Lane!” answered Mrs Baker.

“I have an errand to run for my wife, so I'll drop Cassava off to you along the way. I'll see you in five minutes!”

That five minutes seems like eternity, Mrs Baker thinks to herself, and then she hears a car drive into her yard.

She steps outside to greet Mr Burgess and lifts Cassava from the car and hands her to Mrs Baker. Cassava smells a familiar scent of boiled chicken and lets out a loud “meow!”

“Thank you so much Mr Burgess!”

The following day on Christmas morning, Tilley knocks on Mrs Baker's door to deliver a pudding his grandmother made. Mrs Baker answers the door and at that moment, Tilley catches a glimpse of Cassava. He bolts pass Mrs Baker, almost falling down beside her and he puts the wrapped pudding on the floor, instead of handing it to Mrs Baker. He is so excited to see Cassava once again and to feel her warm fur against his legs. He scratches Cassava behind her ears to see her reaction and to make sure that he isn't dreaming.

* * *

“Finding Christmas Hope” by Susana Pimentel

Missing a loved one is especially painful during the holidays. Each year, when Fall sets in, I find myself reminiscing of the times I relished with my Vavo.

My Vavo was a quiet, humble, hardworking farmer. He always had a story and a moral to share and he had a magical way of reassuring you that everything would be okay. Ever since I could remember, Sunday evenings were allocated to spending time at Vavo and Vava's house. This Sunday was no different except that it would be the last time my Vavo would bid me “Boa Noite Carida Julia, Ate Aminha”.

It was October 23rd, a damp and brisk evening. As I walked through the door, both Vavo and Vava greeted me with my usual double kisses and a big hug that simultaneously lifted me off my feet. Vava returned to her sewing, adding the final touches on Marcus' owl costume for Halloween and Vavo cracked peanuts whilst sitting at the rustic kitchen table.

Vavo had something up his sleeve, a plan in the works because he seemed quite impressed with himself and was sporting a big cheeky grin.

“Aye, everybody okay? You had a good week? Work okay? School okay?” Vavo wanted to make sure life was good and that everyone was thriving. Mom and Dad began to disclose the highs and lows of the week whilst I sat and cracked a handful of warm peanuts.

Vavo turned to Marcus and I and grinned. “Tell me something, you want a puppy?” asked Vavo. “A puppy! Why do we want a puppy? We have already have a dog, a cat and two young children! Why are you asking if we want a puppy?” questioned my mother. “A puppy!” Marcus and I sang in unison. “Where are you going to get a puppy from Vavo?” wondered Marcus.

“I want to give you guys a puppy,” Vavo started to explain. “Fifi had a dog date last night with Jax.....”

“Um, Dad ... you are 84 years old, what were you thinking? Who is going to care for Fifi and help with busy, hungry pups?”

Mom started to protest and shake her head. “Ah, don't worry, leave it up to me,” declared Vavo. The topic of conversation shifted and before we knew it, my parents were talking about the upcoming Christmas holiday and how the citrus trees had fared after the midsummer hurricane and what vegetables were still thriving.

I remember the phone call the very next day. My mother answered the phone as usual “Hi Ma ... Ma! Ma! What! Ok! I am coming right now!” Something was wrong. My mom grabbed her keys, jumped in the car and sped to my grandparents' house. We turned the hazard lights on and sped through Middle Road as fast as we could. My heart pounded and I began to cry. My Mom began to breathe deeply as she repeated, “Oh my God! Oh my God!” We reached my grandparents' house in less than two minutes. Once we were at the top of the driveway, Mom, flung open the car door, dropped her bag, ran hysterically to the kitchen door and was stopped by the EMTs. It was too late. Vava was crying, my uncle raised his arms in despair and my mom shouted, “Querido Papa!” Vavo had died of a heart attack.

Without a last word or a good bye, he lowered his head and passed away whilst sitting at the kitchen table. Vava was preparing his favourite lunch of codfish and potatoes. As she was putting the kettle to boil, Vavo took his last breath and just sat unresponsive to the world.

Vavo's funeral was held the following Saturday. It was the first funeral I ever went to. I kept thinking about the last time I saw him and how I wanted to remember him-always wearing a worn, soft flannel shirt, with the sleeves rolled just so below the elbows, his baseball cap that smelt of his warm musk and his smile, the smile that would make all our worries disappear. It was a very sombre day, memories of the happy times flooded my mind and the only solstice I had was rethinking the last time we were together, that Sunday afternoon.

The weeks seemed to slowly drag on. Halloween was not the same without Vavo handing out bags of kettle popped popcorn. ?Soon it was November, and Mom and Dad began to debate whether or not we would have a Christmas tree or even put the flashing multicoloured lights around the porch pillars.

Vava didn't feel like celebrating anymore. Life was just too sad and lonely without Vavo. Even Fifi was not herself. Since Vavo's passing she barely came out of her kennel and would only smell her meals in our presence instead of eating with her usual hearty appetite.

That year we began a new tradition. Mom convinced Vavo to follow Vavo's wishes and to let go of some guilt. It was Christmas and it was a time to celebrate the light of the world, a time for forgiveness and a time of hope.

On the second Saturday in December, Mom bought a Bermuda Cedar Tree from Brighton Nurseries and delivered to Vavo's house. “What is this for? You know I am not celebrating Christmas. What will everyone say? I am supposed to be in mourning.” Vava began to justify her need to be seen as a mourning widow. “Ma, remember how Daddy used to take the wheelbarrow down to the greenhouse and come back up the hill with a little cedar tree. Remember how he would decorate it with lights and all the photos of the grandchildren and how he would remind us that for Christmas he would be lucky if he would get a simple orange in his sock?” By this time, Vava became less resistant and added, “He would spend Christmas Eve Day selling his vegetables at the market and then he would stay up late, nibbling on the warm cassava pie and unwrapping Quality Street toffees before going to Midnight Mass.” As Vava reminisced, Marcus and I added our photo ornaments to the tree. “This year, Vavo can be the angel on the top,” I declared. I had made a paper angel, with silver doily wings and glittered trim at school. I replaced my photo and added my favourite photo of Vavo. The tree was simple, but perfect. Even Fifi took a liking to the tree too and found a clever way of ruffling the tree skirt and making it her new bed. She seemed to be feeling a bit more like her normal self.

It was 10:13am on Christmas morning when Mom's phone rang. “What! No way!” Mom began to shout and I began to panic. “Five puppies ... four females and one male. Where? When? How? We are coming over right now!”

Before mom even brushed her teeth and combed her hair, she clambered into the car and began to chuckle, “I want to give you guys a puppy! (in a voice that sounded like Vavo's) Vavo's Fifi had puppies! Can you believe it! Five puppies!”

As the car squealed to a stop, I jumped out and darted towards the kennel. There were no puppies to be found. “Ah Julia, inside, go see!” Vava proudly declared. There, under the petite cedar tree was Fifi, wrapped in the tree skirt with five squirmy, wriggly, adorable puppies. “Merry Christmas Julia and Marcus. You see, Vavo wanted to give you a puppy, and look, now you have five!”

We spent the day in awe. Who would have known? The past nine weeks were so sad and painful, and overnight, on Christmas Day we were reminded instantly of the miracle of life and that there is hope and a plan for us all. Vavo had given us the gift of a new life to share. A new furry family member to love and a memory to last a lifetime. I picked up the second smallest puppy and whispered, “Thank you Vavo. You gave us hope. Meet Josie Esperanca Amaral Pimentel, the best Christmas present ever!”

* * *

“Someone to Care About” by Tylasha DeSilva

I see myself as nothing. I do not feel important to anyone and anything. Nobody sees me as special. Nobody sees me as important. I don't love anyone, and nobody loves me. I try and try to do what I got to do to get ahead in life but it never works. I don't really want anything special. The only thing I want is a family. I want someone to care for and someone to care for me. I grew up in an orphanage and never really had any friends. I did have one friend though. His name was Johnny. He had my back; we were like SpongeBob and Patrick. No matter what we was together. But let me tell you something about Johnny. He loved to fight and that was not a good thing. Last time I saw Johnny was at his viewing. He got his self in some deep debt with a drug dealer. The man didn't play about his money. He sent a whole squad on Johnny. I remember because I was with him. I told him to run but he didn't want to listen, like I said Johnny loved to fight. He wouldn't back down for nothing. He was putting up a good fight but there was too much guys and they shot him. Just like that, in one second, Johnny was gone. That day was the day that I realised my world was done, the person who I trusted, the person who had my back, the person who I could say I loved was gone. After that I couldn't keep my grades up I got addicted to drugs, the orphanage let me go.

Right now I have a place to sleep. A little bit of food to eat, all thanks to the old man I work for, Mr Johnson, a small fragile man that runs a small pharmacy. He knows my story; he understands what it feels like to lose the one you love because he went through the same thing. He is the only person who opened up their heart to me. I respect him and he respects me. I don't do drugs anymore; you can praise Mr Johnson for that. He made sure he gave me extra hours just so that I can stay away from all those bad guys. The pharmacy doesn't make much money. I barely have enough to feed myself, or to pay rent. But I am so glad for Mr. Johnson because he doesn't make me pay rent; he tells me that all I need to worry about is smelling better. Ha, that made me laugh but I understand where he's coming from. I'm a big guy, I work out and I try to eat healthy. But my pay is so bad I can only afford noodles in a cup. But I make it with what I have.

I hate winter. Every time I hear winter it's like hearing Christmas. As a child, I never had any good Christmases. The children at the orphanage only get a small little chocolate that was past its expiry date. But we still ate it. Those chocolates were the closest things that we had to anything sweet. On Boxing Day, everyone used to be sick in bed hunched over the trash cans. If I ever get a family I want to make sure that my children have everything they need. I never want any child to grow up how I grew up. It isn't fair.

Today is super cold. I think I'm the only one feeling the breeze because everyone else got big coats that probably cost more than my whole outfit. I always dreamed of getting my own coat. I even asked a lady for hers but she looked at me like I had said a cuss word. As I'm walking I smell this amazing a smell. But I force myself to stop smelling it cause I know that I'm never going to be able to sit in the restaurant that the foods in. People are staring and pointing at me. It doesn't faze me because I'm used to this type of behaviour. The one thing I hate is when children tease other children. I got bullied when I was little. But I had never got punched up by a child, because Johnny always had my back. Ahhh Johnny, just thinking about him makes me miss him even more.

So I am walking and I see this little girl and these kids are around her. At first I thought they was playing a game but then I saw one little girl raise her hand to her. This little girl wasn't an ordinary schoolgirl that has a nice home, this girl was like me. I could tell by the dirt all over her, that she didn't have a home or a family. These little children were calling her all types of names. Something had to be done.

“Hey Stop! Teasing isn't nice, let me tell you something, when your mean you turn into something ugly.” As soon as I opened my mouth all of them ran away. Except for the girl who was getting bullied. She just stood there crying I don't know what to do. So I am standing there just looking at her. She is very pretty but I bet she feels ugly right now. I ask her what her name is. In a scratchy voice she says amber. Amber, now that's a pretty name. I ask her if she had any parents or somewhere to live and of course, as I expected, she said no. Now I'm right here with this little girl who is an orphan not know what to say or do. I tell her that it's going to be OK. She doesn't want my help she tells me that I stink and that she can handle herself because she has been doing it all this time. I understand what she is saying. She must think that I think that she is weak. I always think that people think that I'm weak. I tell her that I have a place for her to live. Obviously I don't have a choice but to take her home with me.

We start to walk but she refuses to walk my speed. I take her to Mr Johnson and tell him my plans. He tells me that I am crazy. Tomorrow is Christmas Eve but no biggy. I tell Amber but she doesn't care either, apparently she has never had a Christmas before either. As the night falls we go downstairs to the pharmacy and get some food. She gulps down her food. I could tell that she hasn't had much to eat for a few days. Mr Johnson seems to get along very well with her. They start to read a story. Just watching them makes me think about having a family. But it will never happen. I get to know more about amber in the morning apparently she wakes up earlier than the average rooster. She likes to talk. But I don't mind because I like the company. We start to get used to each other. This is because we have so much in common. We both want someone to care about us, to find us important. I told her that she could be a great daughter. She said that I am a great father. At that moment I realised that she said that I am a great father not that I could be a great father. My heart sank. This was just a little girl, how could her words have such an influence on me? She got up and gave me a hug, she said thank you for not turning my back on her. She said that I was the closest thing that she had to a family. That night everything changed. For once I was important to someone. For once someone cared about me. I realised that I had the perfect family: Amber and Mr Johnson. For the first time I had an amazing Christmas. We didn't have anything fancy we ate the same thing we ate every night: Roman noodles. But it was amazing because we all finally got what we wanted, a family. And by the way my name is Anthony.

* * *

“Realising the True Meaning of the Season” by Malay Robinson

“Joy, where are you all heading?” Tony, Joy's husband, asked in a very intoxicated state.

“I am taking the kids out for a little while. We'll be home before dark.”

He walked away without any words being spoken, just a few more gulps of beer as he walked back upstairs.

As soon as Tony went inside his room, Tony and Joy's first child, Jason, walked downstairs to his mom. “Mama, it's Christmas Eve,” he exclaimed, “Are we going this year?” Although Jason didn't tell his mom what he was talking about, she knew exactly what he meant.

“Yes dear, my job gave me a raise this month.”

Jason smiled and ran upstairs.

Joy began cooking breakfast; it was hard trying to make a big breakfast in their tiny kitchen. Meanwhile, Jason was getting was getting himself ready as well as his brother, Darrel, and his little sister, Hope. Jason is used to responsibility ever since his dad stopped caring for him and his family. So for a 10 year old he has a lot on his shoulders. Eventually, he got them bathed and dressed. “Darrel, go downstairs and help mama. While I do Hope's hair,” demanded Jason. Jason had taught himself how to do girls hair because his mom is always at work and Hope is too young to do it herself. Jason braided her hair into two quick braids, and then they both headed downstairs for breakfast.

They all sat the table, said grace then dug into their food. They all ate their food in a sufficient amount of time. While Joy went upstairs to do her hair and grab her things, Jason, Darrel and Hope talked about school. Joy came back down with a quick bun on her head and her purse in hand. The children slipped on their shoes then they all walked down the hill to the bus stop.

The bus came very fast. Not many people were on the bus. Darrel and Hope sat together, Jason and his mom sat together. Darrel and Hope played little hand games and sang little songs, while Jason and his mom talked about Jason's grades in school. As they got closer and closer to town more and more people came on the bus. When the bus got to the bus terminal everyone was rushing to get off. Someone knocked into Joy and she dropped her purse, everything fell out. She grabbed everything that was close and shoved it in. Joy didn't realise that she didn't pick up her wallet on the bus.

They all walked down to Reid Street to The Phoenix Store. As the children upstairs to the toys, Joy checked her purse. Her eyes went big as she saw she had misplaced her wallet. She went upstairs to her children very slowly.

Eventually she reached the top of the escalator. She looked around for her three children. Joy peered around the corner to find her daughter curiously observing all the little dolls. While her sobs, Jason and Darrel, were in the last isle scanning all the action figures. Joy slowly walked to Jason and began to tug his wrist gently. “Jason …,”Joy began.

Immediately Jason gave her his full attention, like a dog when its master calls it. “I don't have any money … guys won't have any gifts or a feast this year. I am terribly sorry.”

Jason didn't say a word. All he did was walk over to his brother, grab his wrist and went over to his sister and did the same. Since he didn't take them to their mom they knew what happened. Jason took them down the escalator with them.

They walked out of the store. The sound of traffic and people filled the air. The four of them hustles through crowds of people. They finally reached the bus terminal. “The next bus … is in 10 minutes,” explained Joy. The children nodded their heads and sat on the nearest bench. Soon enough the bus came. The three children squeezed together into two seats. Hope sat closest to the window, Darrel was in the middle and Jason sat on the end. While their mom sat about four rows behind them. As soon as the bus pulled out to leave it began to rain. As the bus drove past Gibbons Company a tear rolled down Hope's face. The bus drove past a few grocery stores. Joy looked at the families walking out with bags and bags of groceries. She wondered what it would be like to experience this with her family.

The bus got close to Rockaway, so Hope pressed to bell for her mom. Hope, Darrel, and Jason got off real quick. They walked up the hill arms in arms, as their mom walked very close behind. Even though the children had a lot to be upset about, they were singing very joyfully.

Soon enough they got to their door. As Joy was pulling out her keys, Tony, her husband opened up the door surprisingly. “Home very soon I see. You had a disappointment, didn't you?” asked Tony. Tony always knows a situation before it's mentioned. The children have disappeared and soon so did Tony. Joy sat down on the couch in the living room.

Just as she was getting comfortable, she heard loud music coming from upstairs. She was too tired to go check. Shortly after that Joy had fallen to sleep. She was awakened be loud music again. This time she went upstairs to go see what was going on. Her children were having a little Christmas party in their bedroom. They had music playing and were doing Christmas crafts. Joy decided to join her children. Eventually Tony came upstairs to join them. This celebration moved from their room to the whole house. When they were finished the whole house was in the Christmas spirit. They began dancing and singing along to the music.

Joy found some ingredients to make cookies. The whole family helped to bake them in their tiny kitchen. The Baxter family ended up having a good Christmas after all

You don't need presents or a feast to enjoy Christmas.

All you need is family and friends for Christmas because spending Christmas with loved ones is the real gift.

So this Christmas remember what the real present is.

* * *

“Mandy wants Christmas like it used to be” by Dionne Tuzo

It always appeared as if her family was moving once a year. The house would be stripped from top to bottom, getting ready for a fresh new coat of paint. Areas that were overlooked all year were cleaned thoroughly and curtains were freshened up or replaced. Then, there was always the fresh, new, plastic smell of a bathroom ensemble from Mrs Jones' store and the new doormat. Yes, Christmas was definitely in the air!

The artificial trees were unpacked at the same time as your bedspreads and for days she would smell like mothballs. It was so hard not to steal the hard candy mama thought she hid on the bottom shelf of the fridge or a spoonful of that mixed peel in that bucket behind the kitchen door. She was sure it was the only time mama smiled and sang while doing housework. It might have been the only time she smiled and sang period.

All over the neighbourhood, folk prepared for the holiday season and sounds of the Temptations Christmas album filled your ears and heart. Children from near and far gathered to discuss what they absolutely knew they were getting from Santa. Mandy, well she just wanted a Barbie, the one with the mini skirt and tall boots. Oh, and colouring books, lots and lots of colouring books with that huge box of crayons with the sharpener on the side. She never had the courage to speak her wishes out loud to the other kids because lately, none of her wishes were come true. As long as he was there, Christmas wasn't like that Trix cereal. It was definitely not for kids, at least not for kids that weren't his.

At the tender age of nine, Mandy had already lost the gifts of dreaming and wishing. There was no longer that light in her eyes or that natural inquisitiveness. There was no more discussing what she wanted to be when she grew up or even what she would like for dinner. (The answers would have always been a teacher and chicken and rice.) It wasn't the fact that she didn't have the things that other kids had that made her so solemn. It was that she no longer felt loved. There had never been a father and no one had ever mentioned it. On top of that, she was the only straight haired, fair skinned member in a clan of deep toned, Afro wearing kin.

Yet, Mandy clearly recalled the times when it was just she, mommy, nana and papa in the house, the days when parent and child were inseparable, dressed alike and safe. Times when she thought she was secretly sneaking the candy canes off of that tall, white Christmas tree. Those special times when she would lick the beaters and bowl after the cakes were mixed or shake the sprinkles on the sugar cookies. The times when she would make herself sick from eating the pineapples and cherries for the ham or ensure that her finger accidentally dipped in the brown sugar. The times when she would be absolutely grossed out because nana was eating a turkeys neck yet she couldn't stop watching. The times when she just couldn't get to sleep because she just knew she heard Santa outside. In actual fact it was Papa.

It had been two years since she lived in that quaint little house and probably two years since Christmas was about family and traditions and love. He came and everything changed. Sitting there in her new front yard with her friends, she gazes back at the porch and remembers her first encounter with him. Mommy asked her to say hello to her ‘friend' which she did and to which his response was, “Now whom do you belong to?” He was older, dark and scary and the only words that would come off her lips were, “My mommy,” as she hid behind her legs. From that point on it seemed as if her mother was forced to choose between the two of them and more and more, her choice was not Mandy. When it was time for a story, she was on the phone. When she needed a hug, which was every minute of every day, he was in the way. When she would have a bad dream, he had taken her spot in bed. All she ever got was those teary-eyed looks from her mom that said I'm sorry or maybe next time. She even lost the honour of choosing what was for dinner. Now it was whatever he wanted.

Everyone was afraid of him, it seemed, and eventually her grandparents no longer wanted him at their house. So they left, and no one ever came to visit them at their new house. He even managed to scare Santa away because he no longer came to bring presents. There was still all of the cleaning and cooking and preparations but on a much smaller scale. She knew it was because mama was the only one who worked. There were, however, plenty of bottles, bottles on the counter, bottles in the cabinet and bottles in the fridge. Those were his Christmas presents and he enjoyed every single one.

Now, Mandy could only help cook if he wasn't at home. It was then that she noticed just how sad her mother was, even though she blamed it on chopping onions. One night, about three weeks before Christmas, the house was filled with music and pine-sol. Mama was busy putting up the new things in the bathroom while Mandy was busy arranging the mineral bottles according to flavour. In he staggered through the front door demanding food and kisses. You can tell that she was repulsed because she turned her head. He leaned over to scare Mandy like he always did and shoved her telling her to leave his chaser alone. When Mama stepped in to tell him leave her alone, that's when he hit her and shoved her to the floor. This happened often but for the first time Mandy saw it.

Something welled up on the inside of that little girl as she watched he mother wipe a trickle of blood from her eyebrow and she lunged forward. He, already unsteady, fell to the floor. Mandy put her face to his and shouted, “Leave us alone!” Mama hastily pulled her off asked her to go inside and watch TV. She picked him up off the floor and led him inside to the bedroom where he could sleep it off. Even though the door was closed and the TV was on, she could hear him say, “I told you woman, it's her or me.”

Mandy tried to focus on Santa reading the children's letters on TV from his workshop in the Annex. She hoped beyond hope that mama would chose her but decided to do something she hadn't done in a long time.

***

Dear Santa,

I know you are scared to come to my house because of him but I'm asking if you could this year. Things have not been the same since you stopped coming. I want my mommy back and I want her to hug and kiss me like she used to. I don't want any toys. I just want to go home. Please, Santa, please come to my house.

Love Mandy

***

She fell asleep on the couch with the paper still in her hand. She awoke the next day in a room that wasn't hers but a room that was very, very familiar. Mandy and Mommy were back in that little house, back in their own rooms and back where love lived. No words were spoken as none needed to be said. When she looked in her mothers eyes, her sheepish grin returned to her face as she basked in the knowledge of knowing that mommy chose her. Mandy skipped to the kitchen where Papa was waiting but she heard in the distance Mama telling Nana that her daughter is the strong one.

Santa had given her a Christmas present early and now she could get back to her regularly scheduled Christmas. She was back to picking the chicken for the pie and eating most of it, back to smelling cakes bake. They all were back to hanging the new things that mama took from his house. Turtles, and kisses filled the candy dishes and Papa ate the nuts while his girls decorated the tree. The brightest light in the room was the twinkle that had returned to a little girl's eye.

That year on Christmas Eve, she slept on the couch as she had done years before, hoping to catch Santa's arrival. She heard a rustling after a long while, but when she squinted one eye opened, there was no man in a red suit but a mommy in a nightgown with a Barbie box in her hand. Not one bit disappointed, she closed her eyes tight and whispered, “I love you Santa.”

* * *

“Snow in Bermuda” by Ben Winfield

One snowflake. Just one. That's all Barry wanted for Christmas.

He sat on the pink-spotted sand, eyes looking outwards to the endlessly rolling blue horizon. The clouds were grey and heavy, as they were inclined to be during winter in Bermuda. Grey and heavy, with the occasional spatter of rain, but no snow. Never snow.

The air was cold, but not intolerable. Barry drew his knees closer to his face, wrapping his arms around his legs for added warmth. Barry's mother once made a slightly dry comment about how her boy never seemed to feel the cold, dressing himself in a short-sleeved shirt and a pair of shorts even in the middle of December. She thought it had something to do with his nerves. Barry never dwelled on it too much.

Somerset Long Bay wasn't frequented too often by tourists, even less so during the winter season, which is why it remained Barry's favourite beach on the Island, even if the large batches of brown seaweed occasionally spoiled its scenic potential. He curled his bare toes on the sand, continuing to stare out towards the sea. When he was younger, Barry sometimes imagined Santa Claus approaching Bermuda in the dark, his sled a rainbow of red and green lights moving through the black night like a flock of fairies straight out of a child's storybook. Barry could see the lights reflected on the ocean surface below Santa's sled. He still believed in Santa Claus. He hadn't yet arrived at the age of disillusionment and disappointment, for this isn't that kind of story.

There was a mild wind blowing, and it roared in Barry's ears. Lots of wind, he thought to himself. Lots and lots of wind, but no snow. He vaguely remembered his first hurricane. There had been much banging around the house, shutters being closed, doors being locked, yards being cleared of furniture. He hid himself beneath his bed covers and listened to the howling gusts outside. Barry didn't know what to expect after the storm was over, but part of him hoped for an island transformed overnight into a mythical, Nordic world of snow, even if his mother explained over and over that it wasn't that kind of storm. When Barry ventured outside the next morning, he was devastated to find only broken trees and fallen utility poles.

He knew it snowed elsewhere in the world. He'd seen images on television from America and Great Britain of the countryside caked in a thick layer of beautiful white sugar, where children his age (and sometimes older) galumphed across the landscape in great black boots two sizes too large for them, looking like lost penguins. He'd seen them building snowmen. Oh, how he wanted to build his very own snowmen. Carving pumpkins for Halloween was never a problem in Bermuda, but a snowman for Christmas? You needed water before you could grow a flower.

Carrots and coal. That's what the children used for the snowmen's eyes and nose. There were plenty of both on the island. Last Christmas, Barry had left the door to the refrigerator open, hoping it would turn the kitchen into a winter wonderland. All he received for his efforts was a smacked bottom, along with a scolding lecture about wasted electricity and spoiled food. Sometimes Barry felt as if he only existed to make life more difficult for his parents, as they seemed perpetually angry about everything, no matter how small or irrelevant.

Barry rested his head on the sand, allowing the gentle sound of lapping water to carry him away to semi-consciousness. His fingers scrawled the letters “Happy Xmas” on the beach, with an “I” substituting for “y”. Somewhere in the distance, he could hear a dog barking. A kiskadee cawed in the sky above him.

The other children at school didn't think much of Barry's desire for snow. They were content with the universal order of things, and took offence to anyone who didn't conform to “reality”. Ever inventive, they would come up with special little slurs for poor Barry, slurs he did his best to forget at the end of the day, because this was Christmas and the time for fights and insults was summer. Barry was a solitary child, but solitary does not always mean lonely. He often preferred the company of animals to humans, even though his parents didn't approve of his antisocial habits. All Barry ever really wanted was snow in Bermuda.

Had it ever really snowed on the Island? Barry remembered his grandfather talking of a very cold time in 1950, but he never mentioned snow. Christmas seemed like an incomplete creature without a layer of soft white on the small, winding roads and palm trees. Barry always thought of marshmallow whenever he saw snow on the television, even if it didn't taste like marshmallow. He couldn't stop thinking about how beautiful a snowflake was when seen up close. It reminded him of a spider's web made from crystal. Maybe if he ever caught a snowflake, he could bury it in the ground, where it would grow into a snowman.

There was a soft padding of feet on the sand. Barry craned his head up to see, and spotted a low, heavy dog with a wrinkled face waddling towards him. It was a basset hound. Barry knew the breed from an old, black-and-white broadcast of Elvis Presley singing to a basset. Barry always liked dogs, and hoped he would have time to play with this one. But then a grown-up's voice called from somewhere behind the bushes, and the dog raced off to find its owner.

Barry rested his head back on the sand, staring upwards at the grey sky. His lips moved silently, whispering words that made sense only to him. He would never leave Bermuda, if he could help it. But he did regret never having seen snow up close.

A passing car was playing an old-school rendition of “Deck the Halls” on its radio. Barry noticed just how cold it was getting, and saw the goose bumps on his black skin.

There was already a darkening atmosphere on the beach as the short winter's day turned to night. Realising the time, he scrambled to his feet and darted for home, hoping his mother wouldn't be angry.

The ocean's water continued to lap on the sandy shore, its tranquil sounds no longer heard by any human ear. Day turned to night, and the darkness waited for a flock of red and green lights to illuminate the winter sky.

* * *

“The Grinch who saved Christmas” by Isabelle Dutranoit

The calming buzzing cut to a stop. The joyful lights went out and the hum of cheerful music died away. The wind began to run past carrying snow in its hands. It was quieter and darker than ever and you could feel the enthusiasm in the air turning into dread. The only light source was the Northern Lights, which cast beautiful colours across the pure white snow and provided plenty of light.

Suddenly, the once lonely paths and streets were filled with hundreds of tiny little elves. They were still groggy and half asleep, but that didn't stop the wave of whispers that broke over the crowd. This was hushed with thumping footsteps making their way down the middle of the crowd, followed by a small, fast clicking noise of someone trying to keep up. Those thumping footsteps belonged to a tall man with spectacles upon his face, red, rosy checks, a snowy, bushy beard and a round stomach with a craving for Christmas cookies.

The clicking steps belonged to a lady. She was average height and average size. She too had glassed and was wearing an ugly Christmas sweater nightgown. It was none other than Santa and Mrs. Clause.

“Hello. Can I have your attention?” boomed Santa in his jolly voice. “It seems the power has gone out, this is the first time ever hat this has happened, but we are prepared. We have generators for your homes and all the buildings …. except for the ... the toy factory!” The crowd immediately broke out into a frenzy of worried souls. “What will we do?” “Christmas is just 24 days away!”

“Attention!” The anxious crowd went silent, “The reason there is no generator for the factory is because it is not possible to have one that is big enough. Now Jim can you get Nate please? He used to be the MVW (most valuable worker) at BELCO before he came here. He is our best shot at getting that factory fixed.”

“Of course Santa! I'll do it right away!” replied Jim.

Everyone filed out of the streets, still in shock to what had just happened, back into their warm cottages, but no one could sleep they were all too worried about Christmas.

The next day if you looked to the top of the toy factory you could see Nate. He was wearing a mask and gloves and working on fixing the power.

Meanwhile, everyone else couldn't just sit around and do nothing so the made toys with their hands, baked Christmas goods or helped Nate by holding the old wooden ladder and getting him energising food, water or whatever tools he may need. Nate worked all day and into the night.

At about three in the morning he took a step back and looked at the factory with was now back up and running. The reassuring buzzing began, the cheerful music returned and the decorative lights flashed back on brighter than ever.

Once again the streets became full of tiny people but this time they weren't whispering, they were cheering and high fiving. They even lifted Nate on their shoulders and began to walk around. Within a couple of minutes Santa came out and congratulated Nate and thanked him. However, Nate said he needed to talk to Santa urgently. So they left the party and went into the dining hall and talked between sips of warm Godiva hot chocolate.

“What's the matter Nate? You just fixed the factory, that's great!” commented Santa

“But when I was fixing the wires I noticed that it looked as if it had been cut, not by accident, but on purpose. Santa, I think someone was trying to sabotage Christmas!” exclaimed Nate. “Now to add to that I found this.” He handed Santa a blue jacket, “It was inside where the wires were. I think it belongs to whoever cut the wires.” Santa's face tightened.

“Who would do something like this?” stuttered Santa.

“I don't know, but we need to find out. And fast before something unfixable happens and ruins Christmas,” announced Nate.

Santa and Nate decided to only tell the police elves about the catastrophe to avoid worrying the busy elves making toys. They told the police everything and handed in the blue jacket that Nate found tangled in a coil on wires. They were going to do a DNA scan to see if they could find anything; although it may take a few days.

Over the next few days the few people that knew what really happened kept an eye out for any suspicious behaviour and hidden cameras were put up all around the property, in every building and in every room. They hid them in bright dazzling lights, in the eyes of huge fluffy teddy bears, in the middle of the bells all unsuspecting elves and reindeers wear and in many, many more clever nooks and crannies.

Christmas was only three days away now and nothing seemed to be happening around the North Pole except stressed short people running around making toys, cookies or supervising all of the above. Santa was resting up for the big day in a fuzzy, red velvet chair when the telephone began to ring, Ho, Ho, Ho. In addition to the Christmas ringtone it also began to shimmer with green and red until Santa scooped it up to answer it. It was the police with information about the person who had cut the wires.

“Hello?” answered Santa.

“Santa I think you should come down here right away, we have the person who cut the wires in custody. His DNA was on the jacket Nate found.”

“I'll be right there!” roared Santa hanging up the phone and running out the door. Santa wasn't very fit so his run didn't last long and was soon replaced with speed walking, then just walking. Eventually, he was at the candy cane striped door of the police elf building.

He swiped his Jolly Card in the key pass and opened the door. There in front of him was a tall, hairy, green person. He had a chubby face with a crooked smile that told you he was up to no good. His fingers were long and pointed and his eyes were wide and red with yellow. It was the Grinch.

“Grinch! I thought you liked Christmas now. I-“

“I did … I still do! Santa I didn't do this, I swear!” pleaded the Grinch.

“Well then why was your DNA on the jacket we found in the coil of cut wires? Huh? In fact, why would you even be here right now? I don't have time for this I am going to go get ready for Christmas.” And with that Santa left. A few hours Santa went to go get Nate, who should have been in break in his room, to tell in about the Grinch.

However, when Santa got there his room was all packed. He was gone. Quickly Santa ran to the window and realised the sleigh had been beaten up and didn't look safe anymore. Without thinking, Santa ran to the police department; he ran the whole way this time, and told the police it must have been Nate who tried to sabotage Christmas and planted the jacket so he didn't get caught. Then he destroyed the only sleigh they had. They all exploded into conversation when they were interrupted by the Grinch.

“Um Santa? I came here to give you a Christmas present … a little early. And I think it might come in very handy right about now.”

“Oh, of course! I am so, so sorry about this!” apologised Santa.

“Well I got you a brand new sleigh!” said the Grinch with a hearty smile.

“R-Really? That is very kind of you! You just saved Christmas! In fact why don't you deliver the toys with me this year? I think you have earned it.” Santa replied with a wink.

The elves in charge of the reindeer hurried to attach the shiny new sleigh.

It took them right up until the last minute, working tirelessly. Santa learned that people really can change and he and the Grinch were friends for many, many years. Nate has never been seen or heard from since.

* * *

“Bear-ly in Time for Christmas” by Maximillian Decker

The first rays of sunlight streamed in through the window, just a tad later than they had the day before. It was December and the days grew colder and shorter, but none of this mattered for Walter.

In this sense he was quite lucky. The older we become the longer we wish to sleep and feel the need for warmth and comfort. It would be far from the truth to say that Walter was old though, he was just different. Not to mention, that he had his own set of problems and worries to overcome.

Walter blinked, trying to open his eyes to welcome the new day. Once accustomed to the light he turned to check on his friends. A few of them were still dozing, whilst others already chattered with excitement. Would this be their day?

This was exactly the question that buzzed through Walter's mind. Time was running out and his friends became fewer by the day, it didn't feel like Christmas was approaching for him. It felt more like the good times were coming to an end. He knew that this was not true, it was desperation which made him think so.

The shelf on which he sat at Daisy and Mac's housed eight other teddy bears; some were black others white or brown, some small and others bigger.

They looked ridiculously cute and by definition soft and fluffy. Every day hundreds of children and adults walked past them, sometimes stopping and making one little bear's and in turn, one little child's life, just a little more special. The lights came on now, it was show time!

Walter sat quite still, he had a good view of the door and in just this moment a father and his son entered. The child could have been no more than four years of age and seemed to be in some distress.

“Jeff, listen to me. Everything is going to be okay. I know it's not so easy right now but Mama is not going to make it back for Christmas. Her work won't let her. Be a good boy and let's see if there's something here which Santa can get you.”

“But I want Mama!” said the boy unable to comprehend what his father was telling him. “Nothing is going to make me happy but that.”

“What if we find you a little companion, just so you have a friend until Mom comes home. How would that be?”

Sulkily the boy replied, “maybe that would be okay, but only if he's special.”

Walter was excited now! He knew he was special, the second he had seen the boy he was sure that they were meant to be together.

Walter was an expert in the field of comforting and being an amazing friend. He would make sure that the boy felt happy again and the time would fly by until his mama came home. After that he would have his mama and a new best friend! Now all he had to do was make sure that he could be seen.

Father and son were already making their way towards the shelf. Then, they stopped. What were they looking at? Footballs? “That won't get his mind off his mom, he needs someone to play with,” Walter thought.

Walter pushed to the front of the shelf, past a big teddy bear who might have hidden him. With all the excitement Walter moved hastily and tripped over his own two feet. To be fair, they were quite large for a bear of his size. Nonetheless, he fell to the floor of the shelf landing hard, rolling over once, rolling over twice, now he was in mid-air. He had fallen off the shelf and let out a silent scream. Bears didn't scream, they might let off a roar, but not a scream.

Walter landed softly. His first thought was that he had been lucky, but the truth slowly dawned on him. He was surrounded by lots and lots of princesses. Walter would not have minded visiting here on any other day, but the timing was devastating!

The boy would never look down by the princesses, would he? Walter tried to comfort himself with the thought that the boy was probably going to get a football anyway. Just in that moment he heard voices approaching.

“What about a small teddy bear? That could be just the thing. What do you think, Jeff?”

“Ya papa but he has to be really small. Small and fast like me.” Walter could just feel that the boy was smiling when he said this.

Looking up Walter saw Jeff being lifted to the Shelf where he had been moments before. His heart felt heavy but he wasn't ready to give up hope just yet.

“Jeff!” Walter yelled as loud as he could. It is however a commonly known fact that teddy bears can only speak very quietly. “Jeff! I'm down here!”

The store was loud and Jeff looked from one bear to the next.

“No papa, I don't like them.”

“Jeff!”

“What about this one?”

“He's too big, he has to be really small and fast.”

“Jeff!,” Walter called again.

“Dad, did you hear that?”

Walter's heart raced! “Yes Jeff,” he called, “I will be your friend!”

“Papa, let me look down there.”

Could it really be happening? Walter closed his eyes in anticipation. This was going to be his day. He would finally get the chance to make one little child's Christmas a little more special.

He knew that families didn't always have it easy in Bermuda and that Jeff was not the only one who was having a hard time. He also knew though, that this didn't make Jeff's problems any less significant. If everyone did their part, then there was a chance Bermuda could become a happier place. Walter was ready to do his part.

“No Jeff, we are not going to look at the princesses. If you didn't see anything you liked here, we're going.”

Walter gave one last shout after Jeff but could only watch as he was lifted back down from the shelf and out of view. He could hear the fathers comforting voice but no longer understood the words, then it grew quiet. Walter's heart plunged to the bottom of his stomach. Christmas was not going to come for him or for Jeff.

The days passed and turned into weeks. At first it wasn't so bad, the princesses he was trapped with were friendly and pretty too. However, he soon realised pretty wasn't everything, and they just kept talking.

He had checked more than once for an off switch having heard the rumour that some toys have them. No such luck. When it became too much, Walter would close his eyes and cover his ears wishing that it could all just be a bad dream. It was in a moment like this that he felt himself being lifted up.

He tried to open his eyes. Anyone who knows how teddy bears are, knows that their eyes are almost never completely open.

Probably because they sleep so much making them even more sleepy in the day. Walter could now see a man and a woman.

He didn't know what he should have expected, but he had hoped that just maybe it could have been Jeff's dad. It wasn't though and Walter couldn't even see a child anywhere with the couple.

“He's so cute! We are going to take him, all right?”

“Sure, if you like him.”

“You don't understand, he's perfect.” And with that he felt himself being carried towards the cashier. He caught one last glimpse of the shelf, his home. It was empty. He couldn't focus anymore, the events that followed were a blur.

It was dark now, he was trapped in darkness. Confined from all sides, with no escape. Walter started to panic just as the sound of Christmas music became audible.

Instantly a sense of comfort and well-being spread through him. Christmas is something magical and although not always fully understood, it can be felt by everyone.

He heard a faint clicking sound as keys turned in a lock and then it became warmer around him. What followed next, wasn't difficult for Walter to understand, the neighbours probably even heard it.

“Mooooom! You're home and uncle Billy too! Papa, come quickly! Mama is home!”

Walter felt himself falling. He landed hard but it didn't matter. Jeff was right there! Probably in his mama's arms, making it okay that she had dropped him. This was Jeff's moment. A family was reuniting for Christmas. A time for family, friends and maybe teddy bears.

“What is in the present Mama?”

“Go ahead, open it.” she replied.

Walter gave his best smile and made sure his eyes were wide open.

This was the day where he became part of the family.

“He's amazing, so small and fast, just like me, Mama,” Jeff grinned.

Everyone was now in the room and not a single face was left without a smile.

* * *

“A friendly attack on Bermuda at Christmas” by Celia Harris

It was Christmas Eve 2023 when the most peculiar thing happened. Presents were not lost nor was Christmas cancelled. However, the situation that took place was immeasurably more bizarre.

It started at 9:30 on the night of that Christmas Eve. Everyone was sound asleep in their beds when the alarms began to blare. The ghastly shrieking awakened the whole of Bermuda. The alarms were implanted into the walls of each house in 2018, when I was only two years old. They were required to be placed in every house as a new security system to alert Bermudian civilians of extreme disasters.

One drill was carried out in 2019, but never again were the alarms used. In 2023 when the alarms suddenly arose from their years of slumber, I remember thinking that the world was coming to end and that the extinction of Earth arrived 11 years late. I cried into the arms of my giant teddy bear as the horror of my devastating thought swept through my head.

But my thought was truly distant from the truth. I turned on my portable TV as instructed to do in case of emergency. “Stay calm. The Bermuda army is taking care of everything. It seems that a strange shape emerging in the distance poses a threat to Bermuda. We would like to assure you that you are safe, but with no knowledge of the oncoming attacker, we cannot be sure of this. Stay inside your house and remain calm.”

I wished the rest of my family was with me but they were in New York doing their holiday shopping. I was home with my Great Aunt Edna. My family was due back that night.

The TV caught my attention again. “We now advise you all to exit your houses as the Bermuda Safety Department has declared your houses hazardous for this unknown attack.” I walked outside to see many of my neighbours vacating their houses as well. I immediately searched for my best friend, Abigail. “Do you know what is happening?” I asked her.

“My mother says that evil people are coming to take over Bermuda,” she replied. “Why?”

“I do not know.”

“Do you know who the people are?” I questioned her again.

“No, my mother says that they are too far away to see.”

Approximately an hour later, the newscaster presented himself once again on our TVs. “We have received new information from our defence lookouts. Our attackers seem to be clouds of snow floating on the sea from this picture.” They displayed a picture, which, oddly, looked quite like the one described. “Oh … A new picture has just been transmitted … Wait … What? ... Snowmen?” The picture appeared, and astonishment was shown on everyone's faces as their eyes grew wide and their mouths dropped. “Although many of you may not believe the words I am about to speak, I do speak the truth. Bermuda is being attacked by a large herd of snowmen slowly approaching the island. This is not a joke. Be prepared!” The screen went black, and astonishment was replaced by fear.

Members of the army showed up to help control the widespread panic. They were also lining the shores preparing for the attack. This was not good enough for me. I needed a closer look. When no one was paying attention, I ducked and crawled to the beach where the army blocked my view. I made my way around the army to the deserted side of the beach. I crawled in between two rocks and watched the snowmen ominously advancing.

“Hello,” said a voice from the darkness. I jumped in surprise and slowly turned around. I could not see well as it was utterly dark. “Who is there?”

“My name is Snowy.”

“Snowy? That is quite an odd name.”

“I assume that you would not have encountered many snowmen in Bermuda before.”

“Pardon me?” A shape began to emerge out of the shadows of the cave and as it got close enough for me to see, it was in fact not a man but a snowman! I let out a loud gasp. “How could a snowman be alive and speaking to me? And why would you want to attack the people of Bermuda?”

“Santa's magic brought us to life. Attack you? We have come to deliver presents to Bermuda for Santa, because he had an unusually large amount of presents this year and could not fit them all on his sleigh. So he kindly asked us snowmen to deliver the extra presents.”

“So you are not coming to attack?”

“Of course not!”

“Well, we better warn the army before they kill all of you!”

“Kill us?”

“They are planning to fight you because they thought you were going to attack Bermuda.”

“You must save us! Go quickly and stop them before it is too late.” I cautiously snuck out of the cave and ran down the beach. Once I reached the area where the army was standing, I stood in front of them and yelled, “Do not attack the snowmen! They are here to help Santa, they will not attack you!”

“Hey! Get out of here! This is a war zone!”

“No! Listen to me!”

“Get away from here little girl! We are trying to protect you!”

“Please, listen!” I pleaded.

“We will not stand here and listen to your nonsense speech. Leave this beach before you get hurt!”

They wouldn't listen to me. I couldn't make them understand that the snowmen were not dangerous. I didn't know how to convince them.

Then the most marvellous and shocking thing happened. Everyone gazed up into the sky in amazement as crystal white flakes floated all around us. “You see? The snowmen are bringing us this incredible gift of snow in Bermuda is a peace offering.”

“Maybe she is right,” said an army member. Then they all dropped their weapons. As the snowmen arrived, they spoke of the reason why they had come, and everyone returned home to sleep. After the snowmen had delivered the presents, I saw the one thing about that Christmas that I would never forget. I watched as the sleigh soared across the sky with the words “Ho ho ho!” ringing throughout the Bermuda night.

* * *

“A Traditional Bermuda Christmas” by Taj Donville Outerbridge

Today is Saturday, the first day of September, just about a week before returning to school, after two months of summer holidays. My Nana and I are in our home grown garden, on our hands and knees digging Bermuda cassava roots, which we planted two years prior.

“Christmas is just around the corner!” she said.

I replied, “Oh! Really, Nana!”

“That's what the old folks used to say all the time, when the farmers were digging the cassava roots,” she called back to me.

From that point, my Nana started to reminisce and tell me what took place back in the day, 60 years ago when she was growing up, in the preparation for a traditional Bermuda Christmas. The sun seemed to beam down through the clouds on us. The more I was digging with my bare hands, the bigger the cassava roots appeared. I kept calling out to my Nana, “Look! Here is another one and another one!” She was so excited. It took us about four and a half hours to dig out all the cassava roots. After the digging, the roots were placed in five gallon buckets of water to soak. The next hour and a half, my Nana and I spent peeling two layers of skin from the roots. After all the cassava roots had been skinned of their two outer layers, the white roots were placed back into clean water to soak overnight for the grating process.

The next day was Sunday; it was after church, that my Nana began the three and a half-hour job of hand grating each cassava root on my great, great grandmother's hand grater. During this time is when I asked my Nana to continue telling me about Christmas times, back in her day.

As she grated piece by piece, she said, “Well, son, it's a long story and a good story at that, so let me try to remember what it was like for me 60 years ago.”

She said, “Back in the day, we first of all raised our own turkeys, chickens, pigs and cows and grew our own vegetables. Cassava, potatoes, carrots, string beans and beets were among the few. We children had to go searching across the neighbourhood hills for thistles every day, to feed the chickens and turkeys that were kept in a homemade wire chicken coop.”

“Oh! Really!” I said. “What are thistles?”

“I will give you more on that another time,” she said. “Let me continue with the Christmas story.”

She said, “Just like we are getting the cassava ready for the pie, this time of the year, three months before Christmas, my Granny and my Mama would cut up the fruit, which consisted of raisins, currents, mixed peel and dates, by hand and soak the ingredients in a glass bottle with Bermuda Black Rum for the Christmas fruit cake and pudding.”

I stood in the kitchen next to my Nana as she was grating piece by piece of the cassava root. She took great care in not to grate her fingers.

“Well let me see now!” she said. “Let me tell you how my Granny and Mama got things started rolling for Christmas.

“Papa would catch the chickens and turkeys, tie them by their feet to the clothes line with string, hold them by the head and cut off their heads at the neck. They were left to drain of their blood. My Granny would fill a galvanised tub with boiling water and the chickens and turkeys would be placed in the hot water to soak for a few hours. Of course, can you image what happened next?” she asked me.

“No! “ I replied. “What?”

“Well Granny, Mama and we children had to pluck every feather until the animals were bare, then Papa would gut and clean them,” she continued. “The pigs, I told you about, were fed every day with slop, which was the peelings from the vegetables and left over food. They were slaughtered and cut up into pork roast and the feet were kept to make souse.

“Guess what the grocery store was named back then?” my Nana asked.

“Nana, I cannot possible guess,” I replied.

“Well my Granny and Mama would go to the Piggy Wiggly store to do the Christmas grocery shopping. We would also collect and save the empty mineral glass bottles over the months leading up to Christmas and take the empties by the case of 24 to the mineral factory in exchange for refills. Pineapple mineral was her favourite flavour,” my Nana said.

“The Christmas tree was brought about a week before Christmas day, trimmed at the bottom and placed in a bucket of water with a cup of sugar and left outside the kitchen door. On the day before Christmas Eve, the tree was put in its place in the living area, always in front of the window. Only the lights and the top piece, which was an angle, were strung on the tree. A few days or so before that took place, the rooms were given a fresh coat of paint and the new lanolin went down on the kitchen and living rooms floors. Either my Granny or my Mama would make new curtains or the old ones were taken down, washed and put back up to the windows.”

Twas the night before Christmas, when all the stockings were hung with care and we children were all snug in our beds, the magic of Christmas began. Santa was on his way. Homemade cookies or a piece of pound cake were left on the table with a glass of milk for Santa. The new tablecloth, which was brought at Lines Brothers store, was on and the table was decorated with Bermuda sour oranges and Bermuda scruffy lemons. “Bermuda scruffy lemons!” I exclaimed. I know we have a Bermuda sour orange tree in the back garden, but I have never heard or seen a Bermuda scruffy lemon.

Nana continued. “We went to bed early because we were anticipating what Santa would be bringing us, even though we wrote our letter to Santa, with a few things on our list. We also ended our letters with ‘God please bless Mommy and Daddy and Granny and Papa'. The girls would always ask for a doll and the boys wanted a gun and holster set, a Davie Crocket hat or a truck or train set.

“When Christmas morning arrived, we were awakening by the aroma of the cooking coming from the kitchen. Of course, we children went straight to the Christmas tree, to see what Santa left us.

“Our stockings were filled with a juicy red apple, a tangerine, Christmas nuts and old fashion hard Christmas candy,” my Nana continued.

“Of course!” she said, “the anticipation was, did Santa bring us what we asked for. So first of all, we had to look under the Christmas tree for the presents that had our name on it. We never saw how beautiful the Christmas tree looked until that Christmas morning because the bells and tinsel was not strung on the tree until we children were snuggled in our beds Christmas Eve night.

“We were always blessed with our doll and the boys with their wish list and of course, we got the usual pyjamas, slippers, underwear, socks, handkerchiefs, Sunday school outfit and shoes. We also got an outfit and boots for Boxing Day,” she added.

“That was a lot of stuff,” I said.

“Yes, it seemed like a lot,” my Nana said, “but back in the day, 60 years ago, children always got what they needed … the PJ'S etc.

“When we entered the kitchen, the smell that filled the house, was from the freshly baked turkey, ham and pork roast. The vegetables from the garden had also been prepared and ready in the pots to be cooked. In the oven the cassava pie was still cooking, as it took three hours to bake,” she recalled.

“So you see, son! Christmas back in my day was very simple and family orientated. We went to church in the morning, dressed up in our new outfits and shoes, and came home for Christmas lunch and in the afternoon, we left for Sunday school. After Sunday school we had our dessert, Christmas pudding with homemade sauce, fruit and plain cake with some homemade eggnog,” my Nana went on the say.

I thanked my Nana for telling me a great story of a true traditional Bermuda Christmas.

After my Nana finished grating the cassava roots, she weighed it and placed it in three bags of five pounds each. The bags were put in the deep freezer for our cassava pie this Christmas. Gee! That was a lot of cassava!

I cannot wait to help my Nana make and bake the cassava pie this year as I know it will be the best pie ever because the cassava came from our own garden, like back in the day, 60 years ago when my great grandmother and great, great grandmother made their pie from the cassava in their garden.

I can almost smell the aroma of the cassava pie.

My Nana said, “Remember, Christmas is just around the corner!”

* * *

“The best . . . and worst Christmas of all time!” by Chasity Armstrong

“Ahhh!” I screamed flying through the air. Trying my hardest not to fly out of the sleigh. It went so wrong, so fast. One minute I'm feeding the reindeer and the next minute I'm through the air hanging on for dear life. Before, I tell you let me introduce myself. I'm Chasity — Santa's stable elf. I hate my job. Scooping up poop and spending all my time feeding and bathing those reindeer. They are so needy. Anyway I'm flying through the sky.

“Help me somebody.” I landed in a tall cedar tree, with my legs above my head. I tried to get back in position but all the moving was breaking the branches.

“Ahhh!” I fell out of the tree landing on the hard, hot ground. I got up not soon to fall back down, out like a light. When I woke up I noticed I wasn't in the North pole. Checking my GPS I found out I landed in Bermuda. “Oh no,” I thought. “Santa needs his sleigh today to practice for Christmas Eve.” When I looked up I saw people were getting ready for a parade. That's when I saw Santa. I ran over to him. When I turned him around he was too skinny and I knew it wasn't the real Santa.

I had no idea what time it was and I was really scared. I started to pace up and down. Biting my nails and wiping the sweat off my brow. Where do I start to look? What am I going to do? I started walking and I soon found a park. Sitting down on a bench I took off my jacket, since it was so hot. When I looked around I saw everyone was bundled up in big jackets and long pants and boots. I was so surprised. Laying down for a nap from the long day, I was so tired.

When I woke up somebody was tapping on my shoulder. Jolting up I saw somebody's face. He was very handsome.

He asked if I was all right, but when I told him my problem, he acted like I was crazy. He told me for awhile I could bunk over in his apartment, but just until I could get some help.

To prove to him I was a real elf I started to talk to his dog. Stable elves have that magic. I let him have some too.

Then I told him how I crashed here and I needed his help to find Santa's sleigh. Very gratefully I walked him home. When I was settled in I thanked him for his kindness and kissed him on his cheek. He blushed and went to his room, waving to me as he closed his door.

We walked around Bermuda trying to find his sleigh. I knew it was in Bermuda, but I just didn't know where in Bermuda. “This is taking a long time,” I told Jax.

“Yeah, I thought you would be back in the North Pole by now.” We brought Kacy, Jax's dog, along so she could sniff out the reindeer. So far she was leading us to a pond. We were looking around.

Five hours until Santa needed the sleigh back. That's when I hear the neigh. The reindeer. I ran over Jax and Kacy following.

I was so relieved. If I went back without those reindeer I would be in so much trouble with Santa. I'm so happy I hug Jax. He's surprised but he hugs me back. I climb into the sleigh. Jax does too.

“What are you doing?”

“I'm going with you,” Jax responds.

“Okay but don't expect Santa to be happy about it.”

“On Donder, on Dasher, on Comet, on Blitzen,” I say. The reindeer take to the sky. “I think you'll have to zip up your jacket,” I say. “We are off to the North Pole.”

At the North Pole Santa and his elves are pacing up and down, up and down. When we land they rush over to us.

“Where have you been?” Santa asks.

“In Bermuda,” I respond.

“Well it's Christmas Eve, get this sleigh running.”

I give the reindeer special treats. Cassava pie. They seem to like it. Santa hops in and gives Jax a wink.

“Good elf you've found here.”

“I know.” Jax smiles at me.

The sleigh takes off and Santa and Jax. Santa gives Jax a longtail transporter to help him travel from Bermuda to the North Pole whenever he wants to. I think this was the best and worst Christmas in all time.

* * *

“Santa wins the America's Cup” by Ellie Coleman

In the midst of the frosty white snow that fell in the North Pole, there were warm glowing lodges. One of these was Santa's workshop. Sounds of elfin laughter came from the workshop. Bells jingled making everything more jolly. Superb aromas came from the kitchen lodge. Snowmen gathered in circles. Snow fell daintily covering tracks that had been made.

The elves stood back to admire their new creation. It wasn't a toy. It wasn't a card. In fact, it wasn't a present at all. Yes, this was an AC62 made solely of carbon fibre which would sail in America's Cup. Santa immediately wanted to try it out.

The elves delicately hitched it on a giant sled and pulled it to the North Pole Pier.

“Ho, Ho, Ho,” said Santa. “This is a great time. This boat will be sailed in Bermuda for America's Cup. Now I must choose two elves to be my helmsman and chief tactician. For my helmsman I choose Leeran. For my chief tactician I choose Yeekal.” Yeekal and Leeran stepped to the front of the crowd.

Before anybody knew it, the crew was in and the boat launched.

“Crank up them hydrofoils!” Santa cried out. Wind whipped at their faces. Snow beat down on them until their noses turned pink. Bu they continued on. All the other elves watched in sheer amazement as the boat flew across the water.

The crew tacked around some buoys and then came in for a rest.

“I will name this fine piece of work Winter Wonderland,” Santa said merrily. Santa and the elves made their way back to the housing lodge. Mrs Clause served the elves cups of hot chocolate. Santa turned to the elves.

“We are leaving for Bermuda soon. We will sail the boat you have created with skill and craftsmanship.”

“The crew will be staying in the village along with the other teams,” Mrs Clause added.

“Tonight we must load the sleigh with Winter Wonderland and fly to Bermuda.”

In what seemed like minutes the boat was in the sleigh and elves were saying goodbye. The journey to Bermuda was only two hour thanks to Santa's magic. When they arrived they were escorted to the small village in Dockyard.

The cottage they were staying in was exquisite: king size beds and a full kitchen equipped with everything a chef would need to cook. Santa and the crew were amazed but Santa's face soon grew worried. “Where's my boat,” he queried. Santa was pleased to find out she was being stored on White's Island.

Every day for the next two weeks Santa and the crew practised. Their tacks and gybes got better. Their strategies got better, and they got faster every day. On the first day of December Santa was upset. This was his month, he should be at work in the North Pole, but instead he was practising for a sailing race.

As soon as Santa, his crew, and boat, were flying across the Great Sound, Santa decided that this was his hobby, and such a big race could not be missed.

On the day of the last America's Cup race everyone was twitching with nervous excitement. The boat was lined up. Everything was quiet, but when the starting horn blared everything came to life. Boats pushed forward and people chattered in a frenzy. Winter Wonderland did a near perfect tack around the first buoy. Suddenly, as if by black magic, the skies turned dark and rain veiled the course from the sailors' eyes. This was a squall. Santa as skipper was extremely fearful. He absolutely could not steer the boat if he could not see anything. Out of the corner of his eye, Santa saw a bright red flashing light. Trusting his instincts alone, Santa followed the light.

Just as quickly as it came, the squall passed. Santa looked up just in time to see a dark object fly over the horizon.

All of Santa's team could be counted on when he needed them most.

Santa realised he was in first and on the home stretch. Some sea spray found its way into Santa's mouth. It tasted salty, but most importantly of victory. Winter Wonderland crossed the finish line first with a roar of applause.

In the days following, the elves returned to the North Pole with the trophy, but Santa decided to stay as he liked this exotic and unique place.

It was filled to the brim with amazing people and things. Although Santa had to go on the 23rd, he left no sooner. All the elves carry the glory of winning America's Cup where ever they might go. Sadly, the story must end, but joy to all and have a Merry Christmas.

* * *

“The Real Christmas Story” by Matthew Elliott

“Dad, please no,” I pleaded, but it was too late. Dad was leaving and there was no way of stopping him. That night was a horrible night; a night that I would never forget — a night that still haunts me in my dreams to this very day.

My name is Shaun and I'm 12 years old. I have a lot of bad memories since that night about a year ago. That night my dad walked out on me and my mom. Before he walked out on us I attended Great Sound Academy in Hamilton Parish, but since my dad supported the family financially, my mom and I are close to broke.

I now attend Palmetto Grove Middle School in Smiths Parish. I like it there, but Great Sound Academy was awesome. Now that my family has hardly any money, we don't have any electricity. It's amazing how much we take electricity for granted, but I've gotten used to it now. It's December 14th and my mom and I are getting ready for Christmas.

“You've got the ornaments?” my mom asked.

“Yeah,” I replied. I looked in the box. All we had were some baubles and one plastic candy cane. We didn't even have a star for the top of the tree. While we were decorating our Christmas tree that we bought from the Barn, my mom said, “I don't feel too well, Shaun.” She went to lie down and I finished decorating the tree.

The next day at school, I met up with my friends John and Brent. They're really good friends. I get teased a lot at school and they stick up for me. “You wanna come over my house on Saturday?” Brent said.

“I can't. I've got some chores to do and my mom's not feeling good.” I really wanted to hang out at Brent's, but I had to walk my neighbour's, Mrs Barrow's, dog. I get paid $10 an hour for walking her dog and the money really helps pay for our groceries.

At lunch time, the school bully, Cody, and his friends were teasing me. “All you have for lunch is a couple of Ritz crackers and cheese,” he taunted.

“Leave him alone!” said John.

“You're wasting your breath,” I said. “He'll never stop, just ignore him.”

During my math class after lunch, the school administrator came in and said to the teacher “May I see Shaun please?” When I came out, she told me that my mom was in the hospital. My Aunt Sherline was called and she came and picked me up from school.

At the hospital, the person at the front desk said that my mom was in Curtis Ward. When I came in the room, mom was looking tired, but as soon as she saw me, her face lit up. Mom told me that one minute she was talking to Mrs Barrow and then the next thing she remembers is waking up in the hospital. Then mom said something that I would never forget. She said that she might have breast cancer. She would get the test results in a week.

That week was a bad week. I didn't talk to anyone, not even Brent and John. I couldn't even pay attention in class. All I was thinking about was my mom. On Friday, I went with my Aunt Sherline to the hospital again. When we came to mom's room, the doctor asked Aunt Sherline to come out for a private talk. When she came back in, she was crying and she told me that my mom had breast cancer. At that moment, I nearly fainted.

I hoped that this was all a bad dream, but it was not; it was reality. My mom had breast cancer! How could this be happening?

The doctor said that my mom wanted me to stay with Mrs Barrow while she was in the hospital. Aunt Sherline lived all the way in St David's and Mrs Barrow only lived next door and was closer to my school.

That night, I couldn't get to sleep. I kept thinking about my mom all alone in that dark, quiet hospital room. This was bad, really, really bad.

It was Saturday now and I should be playing football for my team, Gombey's FC. I'm one of their best players, but I went to the hospital to visit my mom instead. My mom was sleeping, so Mrs Barrow and I just talked. “I've known Catherine, your mom, since she was a teenager,” Mrs Barrow said. “She's a great woman and a great mom.”

“Thanks, Mrs Barrow,” I said. “I just wish that I had told her how much I love her more often.”

“Don't worry Shaun. You will get to say that to your mom.”

After the hospital visit, we went back to Mrs Barrow's house. Mom still looked very tired and I was feeling pretty wiped out myself, so I took a nap. I dreamed about my mom dying and woke up screaming. Mrs Barrow came running in to see what was going on. “I don't want my mom to die!” I cried.

“It's going to be all right,” Mrs Barrow said. “Everything's going to be just fine. Say, do you know the Christmas story?”

“Of course I do,” I said. “I'll even recite it. Twas' the night before Christmas and all through the zoo, not a creature was stirring except you know who. It was Tiny the tree frog.”

“Tiny, the who? A tree frog? No, Shaun, I'm going to tell you the real Christmas story.”

“What? But that is the real Christmas story,” I said.

“No, this is the real one,” said Mrs Barrow. “First of all, it wasn't quiet and there was a lot of stirring and commotion. There were angel's singing and spreading the good news that the baby Jesus was born. The shepherds believed the angels and went to look for Jesus. They found him asleep in a manger in a stable of all places!”

“No way! It wasn't the aquarium and zoo in Flatts!” I said.

“Of course not, Shaun,” Mrs Barrow said. “Let me get back to the story.”

“Yes, please” I said. “This is interesting.”

“You see, Jesus was born to forgive us of our sins and to help us to be better people. That's the real Christmas story, Shaun,” said Mrs Barrow.

“Wow! So if Jesus is real, then I could make a wish and ask him to help my mom,” I said.

“Now you're thinking. So make your wish,” said Mrs Barrow.

“Okay, here goes. Dear God, I wish that my mom could be healed of breast cancer and come home so that we can be together again. Amen.”

As Mrs. Barrow got up to leave, I said to her, “Since Jesus was born in a stable, it's a good chance that Tiny the tree frog was there.”

Mrs. Barrow could not stop laughing for some reason.

The next week, Mrs Barrow and I went to the hospital to see my mom. When we came up to her room, the doctor was there and he looked astounded. “I don't know what happened? All of a sudden, sh … she's fine. M … must have been a computer glitch with the test results,” he said with a puzzled look on his face.

“It's all right. At least we know she's okay now,” Mrs Barrow said.

I could not believe my ears. “The prayer actually worked!” I said.

“Of course, it did,” said Mrs Barrow. “God always works it out.”

My mom was let out of the hospital just in time for Christmas. “What a miracle!” I thought to myself. If Mrs Barrow had not told me the real Christmas story, then I would not have made my Christmas wish to God and my mom would not have been healed.

This was going to be the greatest Christmas ever!

* * *

There's no stopping Overall winner Patricia Barboza!

By Jessie Moniz Hardy

Tenacious is a word that perfectly describes this year's Overall winner of the Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest.

This year's Adult winner and Overall winner, Patricia Barboza, 84, is no stranger to the competition.

She has been entering her stories for 48 years. Some years she won, some years she received an Honourable Mention, some years she didn't hear from us at all, but she kept participating.

“I am in a wheelchair now,” Mrs Barboza said. “I really am not sure I will make it to 50 entries.” However she will write her 49th and 50th entries now as she is worried about not being able to do so in the future due to crippling arthritis in her hands.

That's dedication.

She said later that when she heard she had won, she cried out so loudly that she drew curious neighbourhood chickens toward her house to see what was going on.

Mrs Barboza's winning entry was called Fortune's Fate and was about the rediscovery and reloss of the mysterious Tucker's Cross, at Christmas, after a hurricane. Not surprisingly there was a lot of howling wind in this year's entries, a reflection of Bermuda's recent brush with two different hurricanes.

The 12 and Under winner, Katie Grainge, 12, of the Bermuda High School for Girls, wrote about a Christmas long ago, after a hurricane in her piece Mr Wyndham's Christmas Tree. The America's Cup also made an appearance.

The winner of the 18 and Under category, Ebony Knight, 14, of Sandys Middle School, wrote about getting stuck in a snowstorm while collecting a sibling from university in the United States. This year there were 143 entries, the majority from students aged 12 and 13 year old, even though the contest is open to any Bermudian or Bermuda resident who can write a story. Our youngest winner was Ellie Coleman, nine, of Somersfield Academy, and our oldest was Mrs Barboza. The Bermuda High School and Sandys Secondary Middle School both had the most entries.

The standard of this year's competition was outstanding. We applaud not just our winners, but all those writers who took the time to enter.

Dr Stanley Ratteray (1934 - 2003), patron of the arts and former Minister of Education, after whom the Royal Gazette Christmas Short Story Competition is named

You must be Registered or to post comment or to vote.

Published December 24, 2014 at 11:37 am (Updated December 24, 2014 at 11:56 am)

Royal Gazette Dr Stanley Ratteray Memorial Christmas Short Story Contest

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