(Sneak Preview - A Dark Root Christmas: Merry's Gift)
The star fell.
It plunged from the sky like a china cup toppling from its hook, shattering into a thousand crystalline pieces as it tumbled through the otherwise still winter’s night.
“It was beautiful,” Merry insisted when she told the story to her Aunt Dora the following evening, her full lips turning into a pout. “But I wasn’t fast enough to make a wish while it was still in the sky.”
Aunt Dora, who’d been busy trying to get her electric mixer to work, nodded her soft chin, only half-listening. “Mmm-hmm.”
Merry closed her eyes, remembering the star’s dance, twisting and undulating against the backdrop of a Dark Root moon. In another moment the star broke apart. Lustrous, golden trains the color of Merry’s hair followed the fragments as they streaked across the sky.
“They were so bright,” she continued as she dipped a finger into the silver bowl while Aunt Dora wrestled with her mixer. “Every one of them. I had to hold my breath because I was afraid that if I moved, I’d frighten them away.”
“Mmm,” Aunt Dora half-heartedly agreed as she tried outlet after outlet without success.
Merry bowed her head, catching her reflection in the bowl. Her normally round face was lengthened in the mirror, lending her a shadowed glimpse of what her adult self would look like one day. “They died before they reached the earth. Every one of them.”
“Aye. As stars do.” Dora hit the switch and the mixer roared to life, before abruptly stalling again. “Someday our star will die, as well.”
Aunt Dora’s cumbersome shoulders hunched and then relaxed, a weighty sigh escaping her lips. “That is the cycle of life. There is a beginning and an end to everything.” Then, giving her niece a firm look, added, “And part of the reason for your being here, sweet Merry. To keep our own star aglow for as long as possible.”
It was an unwieldy burden for a ten-year-old child, and one Merry couldn’t possibly fathom, but she took her Aunt’s news with a patient resolve. She couldn’t be afraid. If she were afraid, her sisters would be, too.
Besides, the star tails hadn’t all died. There was one fragment that survived the fall, one small star seed that Merry hadn’t mentioned.
It had dropped softly into the forest just yards away from her.
She ran for it, unafraid of the night or the creatures lurking within, trying to reach it before it dissolved into an earth softened by light snow and heavy rains.
And when she found it, she stopped and gasped, her cornflower blue eyes full of wonder.
Where the star tail had fallen there was now a tiny bright light springing up out of the ground, a light no larger than the palm of her hand. It shone like a lit candle, casting a white halo on the already powdery forest around her.
And as Merry stepped tentatively forward, she saw that in that light there was a silver tree sapling. Rich on the nutrients of the star-shard and the magic of Dark Root soil, the silver tree grew before her eyes until it nearly reached the height of her knees.
“Oh!” was all she could say, then quickly recovered from her astonishment. She made a silent wish on the seedling, though she didn’t know if a wish would take when the star was no longer in the sky.
But it was her only chance and she made her wish like only a child could - with reverence and a certainty that there was someone watching over her, and that special someone had sent her the star.
It was nearly her birthday after all.
Merry didn’t tell a soul about what she’d found or the wish she’d made.
Not her teddy bears or her dolls, nor her sisters or her mother. Not even her Aunt Dora, who had now tossed out the old mixer with the casualness of one throwing out a cat for the night, and was whisking her cake batter by hand, grunting and huffing all the while.
There was one other omission to her story - the white, baby owl she’d found huddled near the sapling, covering its face beneath a wing.
“You’re beautiful,” she told the bird, taking him with her as she returned back home.
Merry told no one of these discoveries.
For she was the keeper of secrets, then, and evermore.