Joyeux Noel

by Mylochka
A Vignette

(Standard Year 2233)

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“Sometimes, Lil’ Christmas,” Louisa DelMonde said, shaking her head slightly as she turned her large, dark eyes on her son. “I t'ink God is havin' a good laugh on me fo' namin' you Noel.”

The boy bit down hard on the corners of his lips so that he wouldn’t smile. “What make you say that, Mama?” he asked, all innocence.

“Because you stop believin' in Santa Claus th' day after you born an' you the hardest child in all th' parish of Orleans to surprise wit' a present,” she scolded wryly.

The air inside the kitchen of their small New Orleans house was warm and so heavy with the sweet smells of home cooking that a visitor might be tempted to open their mouth, take a big bite of the fragrant air, and just chew for a while. Few people cooked these days. Between the convenience of nutrition cubes and the efficiency of food processors, it hardly seemed worth the bother to most. Even among those who did choose to prepare their own meals, the majority would leave time-consuming and repetitive tasks like tearing bits of day-old French bread into a bread pudding to a preparation unit.

Then again, most people were not Louisa DelMonde. She always said people could taste the tender regard that went into each step of the preparation of a dish.

Ten-year-old Noel DelMonde didn’t mind tearing up bread for his mother, but was of the opinion that if the relatives they were preparing this dish for could taste the tender regard he had for them, most of this bread pudding was going to end up spit against the wall of his grandma’s dining room.

“I not even know what you talkin’ ‘bout,” he replied evasively as he concentrated on subdividing the piece of bread in his hand into bits that would hit the right balance of being small but not too small to pass muster.

“Baby boy,” his mother admonished, chopping up pecans into neat bits. “Don’t roll them eyes at me an’ try to act like you not got no idea what I done got fo’ you.”

It was getting very hard not to smile. Noel knew his mother wasn’t mad at him. He always knew what she got him for Christmas. He couldn’t help knowing. She knew that. He always knew things that she was excited or happy about right off – almost before she did. This was just a little game they played between themselves.

“I not done no snoopin’ ‘round,” he assured her in accordance to the rules they had agreed on, then admitted, “Mais, I might have my suspicions.”

“Suspicions, my foot,” she retorted. “You not only know, you sittin’ there plannin’ what all you gonna do wit’ it tomorrow.”

Noel searched his mother’s face to see if she was bluffing. She didn’t always know what he was thinking. She always knew exactly how he felt, even when he tried to hide it, though. As far as he could tell, she occasionally received muted emotions and vague images from people – much better than the loud, insistent voices inside his brain from all directions that were hard for him to shut out or ignore.

When his mother gave him a small, superior smile, Noel realized that her complaints might be a trick to get him to reveal how much he knew. Such tactics were fair game in their annual competition to see who could keep their gift for the other a secret the longest. He hastily schooled his thoughts. However, it was terribly hard not to think about the present his mother had bought for him. It was a splendid gift. She’d gotten him a guitar – a real, grown-up’s guitar, just like hers, not like the babified thing he’d learned to play on. And he had such a good plan…

As if on cue, his mother began to hum a tune that was far too close to the lullaby he was working on as half of his present to her, part of a duet that they could play together tomorrow after he’d opened his new guitar and she’d put on the colorful new strap he’d bought for her old one.

Noel gave his mother a suspicious frown.

“What?” she replied, mocking the innocent manner he’d adopted earlier.

“This sure is a tricky house fo’ keepin’ secrets,” he replied sourly.

“That it is, cher,” she said. “That it is.”

The hint of sadness in her voice was enough to remind Noel of the other secret he was keeping.

“What is it, honey?” she asked, suddenly serious. She could always tell when his mood took a turn for the worse.

“Not’ing,” he said, forcing a smile and trying to get it to reach all the way to his brain.

Of course, she was not at all fooled. She searched his face for a moment.

“Go on, baby,” she requested firmly. “Jus’ tell me.”

He shrugged instead of answering.

“Your daddy ain’t gonna make it home tonight, is he?” she concluded.

Noel looked away and nodded, emotion choking off any words. Although his mother tried not to react for his sake, she couldn’t stop the hurt any more than he could stop himself from adding the echoes of her own pain to his. And when Noel hurt like that inside, he got very angry. His mother told him that made him just like his father. He didn’t want to be like his father. He didn’t want to have any part of a man who’d go off drinking and whoring on Christmas Eve rather than being with his family. A man who’d go off in grimy back rooms and…

Noel’s mother shook his arm to break him out of these too grown-up thoughts and images before mean, hateful words from other people’s minds started to pour out uncontrollably of his mouth.

“Then that jus’ his loss,” she said resolutely. “Ain’t it, baby?”

“It sure is, Mama,” he replied, bitter but grateful for her intervention. “It sure is.”

She squeezed his arm reassuringly, banishing thoughts of his father from her mind and his by replacing them with thoughts of the almost unbearable goodness of the love they had for each other.

Noel looked at her hand. He wished he had warm café au lait colored skin like her instead of inheriting the pale tones of his father. He wished he had no father. No one to hurt his mother by…

“What you say if we go out?” His mother suggested, gently smoothing his thick dark curls away from his face. “After we get all this on t’ cook, what you say if we take ourselves an expedition?”

“We goin’ to midnight mass?” Noel asked, the thought diverting enough to break the evil spell of his father’s abandonment.

His mother tilted her chin up boldly. “Why not?”

Going to church with his mother was a half-terrifying, half-thrilling adventure. First off, there were the exotic sights, smells, and sounds of the big cathedrals downtown where they went. Add to that, the emotions of people were always so clear and strong inside that sort of place, it was all Noel could do not to shout them back at the parishioners. His mother always had to keep a tight grip on his hand the whole time to keep him from doing so. That in itself was a big part of the appeal of going. Under normal circumstances, his mother’s love wrapped around him like the softest blanket ever woven. In public, her love became like the armor St. George wore in stained glass windows. Wrapped in it, Noel felt more than equal to any challenges posed by the dragons they might encounter in the pews of Our Lady of the Sacred Heart.

And there were dragons…

For Louisa DelMonde, attending mass was an act of half-piety and half-defiance. There were a good number of people in this part of New Orleans who didn’t think that either she or her child belonged in a church.

The same people who would whisper rumors to you of the DelMonde family’s ties to the old organized crime syndicates might – after a few more drinks – lean in closer and speak of spiritual powers attributed to the Duhon family that had little to do with conventional religion. Some would even mention Louisa and a few of her aunts, brothers, and cousins specifically. The boy, they’d tell you – none of this sort of gossip dared call Noel by any name at all – was bound to be some big kind of trouble one way or another.


Now, if we go,” his mother warned. “I not want you to be actin’ a fool or pullin’ no pranks.”

Noel’s mouth dropped open in an expression of aggrieved innocence. “Why, Mama, I not never…”

His mother silenced him with a frown. “It not been two weeks from the time I caught you makin’ a face at that woman when we at St. Stephan’s…”

Mais, I tol' you,” the boy protested. “That lady was pretendin’ like she makin’ the sign o’ the cross when she really holdin’ her fingers in a sign to ward off th’ evil eye against me.”

Although he could feel that his mother’s anger at the parishioner’s effrontery and impiety hadn’t cooled entirely since the incident, there wasn’t quite enough left to exonerate him as completely as it had at first. She frowned disapprovingly. “I bet she thought she been hit wit' some evil when you rolled your eyeballs up in your head an' stuck out your tongue at her.”

“Yeah.” The boy couldn’t stop the smile the memory of the woman’s surprised horror inspired. “I done scare her pretty good.”

“Noel Christopher DelMonde, don’t you ever let me catch you actin’ disrespectful towards a lady,” his mother scolded sternly. “And in the church house itself…”

“She not t’inkin’ no ladylike thoughts,” the boy protested. “If you’d know’d what she was t’inkin’…”

“Just ‘cause people t’ink bad t’ings, it don’t mean you can act a fool,” his mother rebutted firmly. “If I told you once I tell a hundred times, people not always able to help what they t’ink.”

The boy shrugged. “Mais, that not what you say when I tell you what that priest t’ink an’ you go to bishop ‘bout him.”

“Well, that man might been able to help what he t’ink or he might not,” she replied with an adamant frown. “But he sure not need to be a priest while he t’ink it.”

They were silent for a moment. Noel sorrowfully peeked through his lashes at his mother’s tight expression. “You mad now, Mama?” he asked, although it wasn’t really a question.

“It done put out th’ mood to go to church if that what you askin’,” she replied, then relented with a sigh. “What about I read you a story? You like that, cher?”

“Oh, yeah! You know that I do!” The boy grinned. “What ‘bout you read me a story ‘bout them dragons?”

She smiled and shook her head. “You ‘bout crazy ‘bout them ol’ dragons, non, child?”

Noel didn’t bother to confirm his latest literary obsession. “You know what I like ‘bout ‘em best?”

His mother pretended to search her memory. “I not know that you ever mention it.”

“Now, you know that I done told you,” the boy reproved.

Mais, you best tell me again, cher,” she replied, keeping up the ruse with a straight face. “What you like ‘bout them dragons?”

“I like how they can all talk t' each other inside they heads,” Noel replied, not caring that he’d told her as much at least a hundred times since they’d discovered the old series of books a few weeks ago.

“Yeah.” His mother smiled fondly. “I thought you was gonna like that, baby.”

“You know what th’ bes’ part o’ them stories is?” he asked, eager to have to opportunity to recount it again.

“Why don’t you tell me, sugar?”

“The bes’ part is when the baby dragon open up they eyes…”

His mother snorted teasingly. “Bet they got big ol’ lizard eyes.”

“You know they don’t!” Noel protested, dismayed.

“How I s’pose to know?” his mother replied, shaking her head at the bowl she was stirring. “I not never see no dragon. I seen plenty a’ ugly ol’ lizards, though…”

“They ain’t got lizard eyes!”

She relented with a smile. “Then what kind o' eyes they got, honey?”

“They got the beautiful eyes like jewels,” the boy informed her indignantly. “You know it. You jus’ tryin’ t’ have some fun.”

“Don’t mind me tryin’ t’ have fun,” she soothed. “You jus’ tell your story, baby. What happen when they open up they eyes?”

“They beautiful eyes like jewels,” he insisted.

“Like the jewels,” she confirmed.

“When the baby dragon open up he beautiful eyes, it see th’ one person who it gonna love an’ take care of fo’ the rest of it life an’ who gonna love it an’ take care of it fo’ the rest of they life,” the boy reported, then smiled at his mother. “That good, non? That awful good, ain’t it?”

Unexpected tears glittered in her eyes. “That ‘bout the bes’ t’ing there is, cher,” she said, reaching out to stroke the curls from his forehead. “The bes’ t’ing o’ all.”

Noel had once heard that the main job that most angels spent their time on was magnifying the Lord. He believed that he and his mother must be made of the stuff of angels because at times like this he could feel his love magnify hers and hers magnify his ‘til it almost made his chest hurt to be so stuffed full of love. A person almost needed to grow an extra heart to hold all that big, magnified love.


“I was t’inking,” his mother said, sweeping the chopped pecans into a small square container, “that I would read you a Christmas story.”

“It could be a Christmas story ‘bout them dragons,” Noel suggested hopefully.

“I not know if they even got Christmas on that dragon planet.” She put the chopping block aside and selected several sticks of cinnamon from a glass jar. “Maybe they just got Dragonmas or somet’ing.”

“Mama,” Noel said seriously as his mother began to grate the cinnamon. “You know that stuff jus’ all made up, non?”

“Yeah. I know that.”

“Then maybe somebody can jus’ make up a Christmas story ‘bout them dragons,” he suggested reasonably.

His mother suppressed a smile as she glanced at him. “An’ what if no one has had the foresight t’ make up a dragon Christmas story fo’ you, cher?”

He shrugged and pressed a crust of bread deep into the creamy mixture. “You know you can make up a story jus’ ‘bout better’an anybody in th’ world, Mama.”

“Oh, so is that your plan?” she replied, arching an eyebrow in mock surprise. “You t’ink I can jus’ make up a Christmas story fo’ you ‘bout them big ol’ flyin’ lizards, huh?”

“I not t’ink you can, Mama,” he replied, then grinned. “I know you can.”

“Child,” she laughed, fondly. “You are a piece o’ work, I swear. If you not…”

Without warning, Noel suddenly saw his mother’s face change. At the same time, he began to feel it. The pain. Horrible, swift, burning. Like daggers through her veins. She pressed her lips together tightly so she would not scream. But that didn’t matter. He felt it as sharply as if it was happening to him. He screamed for both of them as her face paled and she slumped forward against the table.

“Baby,” she breathed, clutching his hand with a grip that was involuntarily vise-like. “My medicine...”

“Mama!” he cried. “Mama!”

“Medicine,” she repeated urgently, hot needles of pain stabbing though her arms and legs.

Noel was paralyzed with pain and fear.

“Baby,” she choked, another brutal wave of agony sweeping though her. “Please.”

Tears of terror and pain streamed down his face as he tore himself away to find the drawer that contained the hypo. In a maneuver they’d practiced countless times, he loaded the device and crossed quickly back to his mother. This, however, was much harder than they’d ever practiced. Her pain echoing inside him endlessly. His fear reverberating inside her, making the pain worse and worse. Finally his trembling hand was able to hiss the device against her arm. His mother’s body suddenly went slack and slumped to the floor scattering pecans and cinnamon all around her.

“Mama!” he wailed. “Mama!”

She was fading away from him – going far, far away from his mind. He held onto her tightly, but his mind couldn’t get the same grip his little hands could. He wrapped himself around her crying, “Mama! Mama!”

She was slipping away like water – floating high, high above him like a balloon… A balloon with a string that was slipping, slipping away. His mind was horribly blank – barren, stripped clean by the hot knife of pain.

“Mama!” he sobbed. “Mama!”

His desperate thoughts managed to hook onto the smallest corner of her as it retreated. He held on madly. “Mama! Mama!”

Help. Inside his mind, quiet, slipping away, like water.

Help.Without releasing her, he reached for the comm. unit. The emergency line was preprogrammed so he could make the call by hitting a single button.

“Please state the nature of your emergency.”

“My mama…! My mama…!” he sobbed, incoherent in his pain and fear. “My mama… She goin’!”

“Your mother is… gone?” a filtered voice asked uncertainly. “You’re alone in the house?”

“No! No!” he said, willing his mind back to sanity. “No, she sick. She plenty sick. Please!”

“An EMS Unit will be there in a few moments. Can you give me your name and address?”

The request strained his overtaxed faculties.

“Jus’ come, damn it!” he raged. “Fo’ God’s sake, come quick! Oh, Sweet Mary… My mama! My mama!”

“Try to stay calm,” the voice advised kindly. “I’ll stay on the line until the EMS team gets there.”

“Don’ bother stayin’ on th’ line, dammit,” he growled. “Jus’ get here. Please, Sweet God, get here!”

In the yard, he could hear his father’s dog, Bullet, barking. Their house was only a few blocks from the city services transport unit. During their drills, his mother had always assured him that in less than five minutes after the dispatcher had gotten his call, doctors would be there.

Lay down, Bullet, he thought.

Bullet couldn’t talk inside his head like the dragons in the stories could do. He just felt stuff – like bored, or hungry, or mad. Noel had tried to train him to be more like the dragons. But it didn’t work. Bullet was his daddy’s dog. And that dog did not think anybody but Noel’s papa had leave to boss him around. Noel had experimented with making his thoughts sound like his father’s thoughts. That didn’t work either. Old Bullet wasn’t fooled. Bullet would obey Noel, but in a kind of mean way, grunting with disgust when he did so.

In his mind, the boy could see the dog turning around in three grudging circles before laying down.

Reluctant or not, the way that Bullet obeyed commands that Noel sent to his mind served to confirm the belief held by some people in the neighborhood that their house was haunted. This conclusion seemed more than a little crazy to Noel. He had no idea what a ghost could possibly want with having a dog lay down, or roll over, or bark real loud.

Although the dog didn’t get back up, Noel could hear Bullet give the EMS guys a good growl as they passed. He could feel the men’s fear, but they did not pause. He knew it would have been best if he’d gotten up and let the men in instead of making them use their emergency bypass, but he couldn’t let go of his mama. His white knuckled grip seemed to be the only thing holding her to the Earth.

“Emergency Medical Team!” one of the men shouted. “We’re comin’ in!”

Noel wanted to call out to him but his throat was convulsing with choked sobs. He felt as if his very soul was being sucked out of him. He felt so dry, so raw, so unimaginably empty… All he could do was to will the men to find them quickly.

They rushed into the kitchen as if he’d been sending out a homing beacon.

“It all right, cher,” one of the men said, kneeling and trying to pull him out of the way. “You stand back now and let us look at her.”

Noel couldn’t have pulled away if he wanted to. There wasn’t time to argue. The men set up quickly, unpacking neat, orange and white cases of equipment and running scanners over his mother.

Noel continued to hold on tightly to the corner of his mother’s soul, holding her in place as best as he could as the men hissed one hypo after another into her neck and set up boxes that whined instead of giving the beeps they all knew that they should.

While he was watching one man, the other managed to sneak and press a hypo against the bare part of Noel’s own arm.

“What you do that fo’?” he demanded wildly.

“You in shock, bebe,” the man answered calmly. “An’ we need you to be able to talk to us.”

Noel had no idea what he could say. There were no words to describe the hideous, empty feeling inside him. He was holding on to a mere, ragged corner to what had moments ago been his whole life.

“When this happen, cher?” the first man asked. He was clamping bulky-looking bracelets onto Noel’s mother’s arms.

“Couple minutes ago,” he answered tightly.

“She have enough time t’ take any medicine? Or you give her anyt’ing?”

“Yeah. I give her th’ medicine.”

“Get th’ container for us, petit,” the first man ordered. “I need to look at it.”

Noel knew that this was partly true, but partly not true. Not only did the man want to check the label of the medicine, but he also needed the boy to get out of the way.

“C’mon, cher,” the second man urged when he hesitated. “You want us t’ be able t’ help your mama, doncha?”

A hit wave of anger swept through the boy. How dare that man suggest…?!!

“C’mon, cher,” the first man said. “We gotta move.”

Pressing his mouth tightly closed to hold back the venomous things he wanted to scream at the men, Noel let them slide his mother out of his lap. He closed his eyes and concentrated on keeping his grip on the crumbling pieces of her mind that were still within his grasp.

“Go on, now,” the second man urged.

The boy made his way quickly to the medicine drawer and snatched the container from its spot. When he turned, he could see the men had his mother stretched out on the floor. More ugly metal bracelets were fastened up and down her arms and legs. A big blue and white one with blinking readouts was clamped around her neck. The first man was in the midst of methodically activating each device. They started to beep. Noel knew that the beep was the sound of his mother’s heart, but that the pulse was being generated by the machines.

The frail pieces of her mind stopped fading… but they didn’t get any stronger.

One of the men rose and crossed to the comm. panel. “This is Unit Forty-three. On site. Believe we got a coronary. Patient – female. Age – maybe thirty.”

Noel could hear him continue in his thoughts. An’ a fine lookin’ woman.

“Acknowledged,” the dispatcher replied. “A child called it in…”

“We got him, darlin’,” the man said, smiling at Noel. “Tell Mercy General we’ll be bringin’ her in as soon as we can get her stabilized.”

“You best not take my mama nowhere,” the boy warned the men.

“She bad sick, child,” the first man replied, not looking up from his scanners.

“Hey, Rene,” the other man said, continuing to stare at his mother. “That Dom DelMonde’s wife, ain’t it? This here Dom DelMonde’s li’l boy.”

“Hell, yeah. It Dom DelMonde’s place. Don’t you ever look at the address?” the first man retorted.

“Hey, you Dom DelMonde’s li’l boy?” the second man asked superfluously.

Noel frowned at him. The man was not only looking at him. He was now looking at the house. They had a very nice house – on the inside. The inside was a lot nicer than the outside. Few people ever came into their house. His father didn’t like people to knowing too much about the nice things he kept inside their house. He didn’t want people to think too much about things he might have been willing to do to get those nice things. He didn’t like people looking at his beautiful wife. And perhaps most of all, he didn’t want people to know too much about his odd son.

Noel glared a warning to the man to keep his eyes to himself.

“I’m Bill Robicheau,” the man introduced himself, ignoring the warning. “My cousin lives next door. Rene an’ me play poker wit’ your daddy.”

“I know who you are,” Noel said coldly. He could see what was inside these men’s minds. They weren’t as bad as some of the men his papa hung around with, but they weren’t all good. They weren’t saints. They certainly weren’t good enough to have their hands all over his mother.

“My God, he make it sound like we some kind o’ criminals,” Robicheau laughed.

“He do know his father,” the other man, Rene Bouchard, said.

“I best call Dom,” Robicheau decided. “You know where he is, cher?”

“You do,” Noel returned, narrowing his eyes.

After a second, the man laughed. “I guess I do at that,” he said, taking a private communicator out of his pocket.

“Bill, take the boy into the bedroom an’ have him pick out some t’ings for his mama to have at th’ hospital.”

Noel turned his glare back on Bouchard. He knew the man was lying. The medtech needed to take his mother’s shirt off to attach more cardio-stimulators. He didn’t want the boy to be there to see that.

The man had told Noel that he was in shock. Noel hadn’t believed him. He felt shocked now, though, blasted by lightening, his mind clear and empty of anything other than pain and hot rage. The thought of this man, a stranger, unworthy, touching his mother… taking her clothes off and touching his mother was as wrong and awful as the other things the man was thinking about what might happen to her in the hospital, how they might have to open up her chest and how even that might not work, Noel was blank with shock, unable to move, unable to breathe. For a moment, he was so angry that he was almost unable to keep hold of the little corner that was keeping his mother with him.

“Go on, petit, “ Bouchard urged. “Your mama gotta go to the hospital. She gonna need a nice nightgown.”

Noel saw only in his mind the image of his mother’s naked chest before and after lasers had cut into it.

“Go on, now,” Bouchard repeated.

Noel couldn’t move. Agonized anger rooted him to the floor. He’d never felt so horribly empty, so emptily horrible. He realized he could no longer feel his mother. She seemed to be floating above him, high, high above him, floating out of reach, like a spirit in a ghost story. Did this mean that she was…? Noel’s mind wouldn’t even let him think the word. Was she gone because he had forgotten to hold on to her?

“C’mon, cher,” Robicheau said, taking him by the arm and gently guiding him out of the kitchen.

The boy’s feet moved without conscious control from his mind. He had to do something. He couldn’t do nothing. He had to do something…

“C’mon.” Robicheau led him towards the antique armoire in his parent’s bedroom. “Let’s pick her out somet’ing pretty.”

“You stay back,” Noel warned, whirling on him. “You not come near my mama’s stuff.”

“Oh, that all right. That all right,” Robicheau soothed, holding his hands up as he backed towards the bed. He took out his communicator. “You just do it by yourself if you want. I gotta call your daddy.” He activated the device with his thumb and held it up to his mouth. “Kitty? Where you at? It Bill Robicheau. Is Dom DelMonde there?”

A plan began to form in Noel’s mind as he half-listened to the woman’s squeaking reply. A terrible plan. A very terrible plan. But he had to do something. He couldn’t live with this.

“Yeah, his wife sick… So if you can get him…”

Noel turned to the dressing table. He picked up a make-up case from where it sat on a crocheted doily. In his mind, his terrible plan took shape. White hot, blank as lightning…

“Yeah, well, how you doin’, girl?” Robicheau lounged on his parents’ bed with thoughtless disrespect.

Noel retrieved an overnight bag from under the armoire, opened it, and put the makeup case inside.

“I not see you last night,” the EMS man was saying, flirting impiously.

Noel reverently drew out a high-necked lace gown from his mother’s lingerie drawer. It was white. He knew black was the color for funerals, but white seemed appropriate for his mother. White like a bride. White like an angel.

“No, his wife is bad sick,” Robicheau was arguing with his unseen lady friend. “No matter how drunk he is, he gonna hafta sober up an’ come home.”

White hot tears blurred Noel’s eyes as he carefully placed the negligee into the overnight bag. He would have to do it himself, slip the lovely garment on over the ugly life support vest Bouchard was fitting onto his mother in the next room. As Noel felt for the blaster he knew was hidden under his father’s shirts, he wonder if perhaps he should change clothes too. He wished he had a pair of white pajamas so he would match his mother.

“I gonna be off work by ‘bout five,” Robicheau was saying. “I could drop by…”

There might be blood, he figured, as his hand closed over the cold metal. The little blaster wasn’t powerful enough for four full-force shots. If he used the laser setting to kill both of the men, there would probably be enough juice left to evaporate Noel along with his mother’s body. If not, he could always use the overload setting. Quick, but messy. He didn’t think it was going to be a problem to kill either of the EMS guys. Bouchard was still too intent on observing the readouts on the monitors he’d attached to his mother. Robicheau was having a good time flirting with the prostitute on the other end of his comm line. If Robicheau made a little noise, he might lure Bouchard into the bedroom and solve the problem of the blood entirely. Noel didn’t care if there was a mess in here. It didn’t make any difference now. His hand trembled a little as he adjusted the settings. His fingers felt as cold as the trigger. This was a very bad plan. He knew that. There was nothing else he could do, though. He couldn’t stand the thought of strange men touching his mother, cutting her open after she was… He couldn’t live with it. He couldn’t live with this white-hot shock of utter aloneness.

The boy took in a deep breath and firmed up his grip on his daddy’s gun. He was going to have to be quick. There was no stopping now. For the plan to work – as terrible as it was – there would have to be no stopping. There was no point in stopping anyway. There was nothing left.

Baby, no.

Noel blinked. The words were so quiet; he thought he’d imagined them at first.

No, baby boy, no.

The voice was weak as a whisper in his mind, but it was there. It was real.

“Mama!” he cried out, dropping the blaster gladly as he raced from the room. “Mama!”

He heard Robicheau yell, “Hey, don’t…” almost immediately followed by Bouchard’s “No, don’t…!”

Noel did not heed either as he rushed to kneel and press his lips against his mother’s still greyish cheek. “Mama!”

Her eyes remained closed, but her voice whispered in his mind, Baby, promise you not ever t’ink such terrible t'ings again.

Ignoring the life support equipment encasing her, he hugged her tightly. Mama, promise you won’t ever leave me!

Someday, I will, her thoughts replied gravely. Not today - praise Merciful Mother Mary - not today. But someday I gonna have to.

No, no, he protested, smoothing back her hair from her alarmingly pale face.

When I do, baby boy, always know I will find a way to be wit’ you, she thought to him. Don’t let th’ darkness come into your heart, my sweet, sugar lamb.

Robicheau was saying softly, “Is she..?”

“I thought so fo’ a minute.” Bouchard was looking at sensors which had begun to beep in a louder and more confident rhythm. “But…”

Robicheau grinned broadly. “Look like somebody’s gonna have a Merry Christmas after all.”

Noel knew this Christmas was going to be far from merry. It would be filled with excruciatingly brief visits to the hospital and excruciatingly long stays with his relatives. Dominating it all would be his father’s unbearable, unforgivable, aching, sullen guilt – a guilt that would paradoxically drive him to even greater infidelities…

He couldn’t think about any of that now. Noel could feel the warmth returning to his mother’s cheeks. He opened his heart and mind and sent her all the strength in his small body. By New Year’s she’d be back home. They’d be playing the duet he wrote together on their guitars.

Her ashy lips curved into a smile. “I knowed you wrote me a song,” she whispered aloud, her voice cracked and rasping.

“Shhhh,” he hushed tenderly, pressing his fingers to her mouth. “It not Christmas yet.”

“It always Christmas when we together, my little Noel,” she answered. Although her body was still too weak to move, her emotions reached out to enfold him like snow white angel wings.

Fear, dread and anger melted from him. Even though he knew those feelings would eventually return, he surrendered to the embrace of pure love. The world swirled on, continuing to spit out a constant, unpredictable spew of anarchy and chaos into the corners of his too-open mind, but for this moment he was able to push all of that away. Noel put his arms around his mother’s neck and let himself for one endless moment feel the most perfect of perfect joys.

Joyeux Noel. Peace on Earth. Amen.

The End

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