Month: December 2011 Page 1 of 4

My best books read in 2011.

A few days left…if I read anything else stellar this year, I’ll add it to the list…

Five stars, in reverse order of reading:

  • The Non-Designers Design Book, by Robin P. Williams.  In a discipline that values intuition over clear explanation (seems like), a refreshingly blunt books on what’s actually going on.
  • The Best of Joe R. Lansdale.  Short story collection (very dark), featuring “Bubba Ho-Tep.”  I could only read a few pages of this at a time, because it was so dark–and it’s me saying that.
  • “Young Guns,” by Ian T. Healy.  Short story.  A super father who hides his talents has to learn to cope with his daughter who won’t.
  • Fullmetal Alchemist series.  Manga.  I’m awaiting the last (!) volume.  This is great storytelling.  Just great.
  • The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making, Cat Valente.  Middle-grade.  Started out a bit twee, then talked you into all kinds of ideas.  Deceptively subtle 🙂
  • Chew, by John Layman.  A cibomancer, or someone who can tell the history of a thing by eating it, in a world where chicken has been outlawed.  Dark and funny.
  • “How to Cook Husbands, A Creepy Story,” by Rebecca Senese.   Not what you were expecting…or is it?
  • Three-Lobed Burning Eye Annual V, Ed. by Andrew S. Fuller.  I’m in this, but I feel like I’m the least of the stories contained.  Surreal, horrific, and wonderful.  Limited run.  Sor-ry!
  • Heston Blumenthal:  In Search of Perfection. If by “perfection,” you mean starting things on fire, this is your book.  Foodie treasure.
  • Apocalypse Cakes: Recipes for the End. Got a review copy.  This is perfect, if sadly shorter than I wanted, and insults everybody.
  • Generation Loss, by Elizabeth Hand.  Art, music, isolation, and madness.  A hidden gem of a serial killer book.
  • A Game of Thrones, by George R.R. Martin.  I was putting this off until the series was done, but then the TV series came out.  Still haven’t see the TV series.
  • The Fat Duck Cookbook, by Heston Blumenthal, illus. by Dave McKean.  Suh-weet.  Essays on food, then the recipes, then the science.  We loves the science.
  • In the Night Garden and Cities of Coin and Spice (the Orphan’s Tales), Cat Valente.  Arabian Nights for cross-mythic stories, so entertwined as to put the originals to shame.
  • The Soul Mirror (Collegia Magica Series), by Carol Berg.  High fantasy intrigue in a world where magic is dying.  A rogue sorcerer and the ordinary girl who pursues revenge against him.
  • The Escapement and Evil for Evil (The Engineer Series), by K.J. Parker.  (First book is Devices and Desires.)  Painfully good series about, oh, treating people like clockwork.  A tour de force of intrigue and horror.
  • Drood, by Dan Simmons.  One of the few perfect books…the story of Charles Dickens, Wilkie Collins, and the ultimate mind@#$%.
  • The Wonderful Wizard of Oz, illus by Eric Shanower.  This graphic novel really captures the spirit of the midwest, making shades of brown into a rainbow.  And Dorothy is as cute as a button.
  • Strange Men in Pinstripe Suits & Other Curious Things, by Cate Gardner.   Short stories of surreal wonder, with laugh-out-loud absurd twists.
  • The Freelancer’s Survival Guide, by Kris Rusch.  I need to reread this about once a year.
  • Thoughtless Acts? Observations on Intuitive Design, by Jane Fulton Suri.  How do we use things, and how to design heterodyne with that?
  • Who Fears Death, Nnedi Okorafor.  Magic in post-apocalyptic Africa, a chosen-one story that’s almost too painful and beautiful to bear.
  • Writing Down the Bones:  Freeing the Writer Within, by Natalie Goldberg.  Bringing meditation into your writing practice, or bringing writing practice to bear on a search for peace, or integrating your life and writing…
  • Yotsuba! series.  Manga about a little girl who enjoys everything.  Reminds me of Ray, ages 4-6 or so.
  • Being Wrong:  Adventures in the Margin of Error, by Kathryn Schulz.   How our brains trick us into thinking we’re right, even when we’re not…survival at its fittest.
  • Handling the Undead, by John Ajvide Lindqvist.  The dead come back, and this time we actually have to deal with them instead of just blowing them up.

According to Goodreads, I’ve read 139 books on 2011, or about one every 2.6 days.  Time to up that average…

Book Review: Peter Swift’s Fright Files: The Broken Thing

**** Excellent.

The main character is a boy, but a strong girl character is with him throughout most of the book.

About 100 pages.

Peter Swift’s Fright Files:

The Broken Thing

by Peter Swift

In short: Stevie likes horror movies and books…but when he discovers a real haunted house and a real haunting, he chickens out and has to be dragged into finding out more by his best friend, Angie.  What they discover is a threat to their lives and the ones they love.

Stevie, a big horror movie and book fan, is also the victim of bullies in Nohope, Vermont.  The bullies chase him into some woods that are supposed to be, if not haunted, then at least too creepy to be running around in.  While there, Stevie finds a broken doll-thing that almost seems to move in his hand–the doll is later stolen by the bullies.  Soon afterwards, Stevie’s mom gets into a car crash (she doesn’t die) trying to avoid a ghostly, broken-looking girl in the middle of the road…a girl who wants to get back something that was stolen.

Stevie and his best friend Angie, another horror fan, find out that the ghost used to be a girl who lived at a house just past the creepy woods…a girl who supposedly murdered her whole family, then killed herself.  Stevie’s teacher doesn’t believe in ghost stories (but likes local legends), yet recommends they talk to his dad, who has a different, even scarier opinion of the old house…

Okay, admittedly, with Goosebumps, sometimes you just have to laugh.  Some of the situations that people get into are just too funny, especially when compared with adult horror movies.  The Broken Thing, however much it may go in the Goosebumbs category, provides a few more chills than that.  What makes the thrills just slightly annoying is that there are so many cliffhangers that lead to fake-outs–it wasn’t the monster sneaking up on them, it was only his sister! kind of things.  But that’s a minor quibble.  The characters were fun, the action exciting, and the slow parts tinged with creepiness.  A couple of silly moments…but sometimes you just have to have a little cheese with your screams.

Book Description (from the author’s website):

Stevie Barton loves a scary story, until he finds himself living one! Two days before Halloween in Newhope Nohope, Vermont, Stevie discovers a mysterious antique toy sitting in the spooky forest the townspeople call The Grove. He pockets the abandoned toy, but a local bully drives him deeper into the dark forest. Soon, Stevie learns that the bully is the least of his worries. Something evil slept in those dark woods, and he woke it. Now the evil is after him! Along with his best friend Angie Lewis, Stevie must find and stop the horror before it finds him.

About the Author (from the author’s website):

What’s not to love about telling scary stories?  I work with kids, and I love writing horror and mysteries for them.  There’s a freshness and acceptance of the unknown that dulls in adulthood. That which adults too readily dismiss as implausible will run icy fingers along a child’s spine and send their imaginations off the deep end. That’s what it’s all about.

Download the book (for free) at the author’s website or Smashwords.

The 2012 TBR Pile Challenge

I happened to hear about the Best Book Reading Challenge Ever: the TBR pile challenge.  The rules: pick 12 books (or 14, so you can ditch 2 books that you don’t like) that have been on your To Be Read (TBR) pile for over 12 months, and read one a month throughout 2012.  If you enter the official contest, you can win a $50 gift card to Amazon or the Book Depository, but really, the benefit is getting those books off your list.

Here are my choices:

 

 

De Kenyon Books: 2011

The year in review for my De Kenyon pen name…

The Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie

Nobody knows what happened when Rachael’s mom disappeared a week ago–except Rachael’s classmate Raul. So when giant talking dogs attack him, Rachael follows and gets kidnapped, too. Now she’s on a mysterious ship full of kids who can change into animals–the Exotics. Are their capturers selling Exotics into slavery? Or are they trying to rescue them from something worse?

I also have a short story in the series up…I haven’t announced it here yet, because I’m trying to get it to go free on Amazon first.  But it’s free on Smashwords…

The Exotics:  Tigerlilly (A Short Story)

After Rachael’s friend doesn’t return on the first day of second grade, she asks her mother to find her new address so they can be pen pals. But Rachael’s mother can’t find Brenna’s family anywhere: it’s like they were erased.

Tales Told Under the Covers: Zombie Girl Invasion & Other Stories

Ten tales of death, invasions from other realms, bullies, babysitters, liars, and the brave kids who fight back. Zombie girls who have to hide, lest they get eaten by bigger zombies. Food that bites back. Wizards who are scared of their own power. Murdered (and murderous) pets. Secret superpowers. And that last, great voyage into the unknown.

And I have all the individual Tales listed separately under De Kenyon:

  • Bunny Attack!
  • Zombie Girl Invasion
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Sushi Monster
  • A Picture is Worth 1000 Chomps
  • Class Pet from Beyond the Grave
  • The Society of Secret Cats
  • Which is Bigger, the Moon or an Elephant? And Other Stupid Questions
  • The Scaredy Wizard of Theornin
  • Factory Above, Factory Below
  • The Last Voyage of the Mermaid

All books are listed on AmazonSmashwords, and B&N online, as well as a ton of other online stores too numerous to mention.

 

DeAnna Knippling Books: 2011

The year in review for my DeAnna Knippling ebooks…

Novel:

Chance Damnation: A Tale of the Weird West

A little girl with the power of a God. Invaders from another world. When demons rewrite history on the Great Plains, three brothers follow one of their own into a strange Hell to change it back.

(Related short story) The Vengeance Quilt

God’s work weighs on Sebastian, a new priest, harder than most. But dealing with demons is his penance, and God never makes a burden harder than you can carry. Or so he believes when the rivalry between two of his parishioners spirals into the supernatural. A Weird West tale.  Can be read independently of the novel; happens after the novel.

Novellas:

Haunted Empire

SF Adventure in the vein of Firefly/Serenity: When Aoife Cavenaugh is kidnapped by her thieving, smuggling bastard of a cousin-in-law, she’s torn between the need to avenge her beloved cousin and her greed for the research lab on his spaceship. If only she can trick him into satisfying both of her obsessions…

Death by Chocolate

Ellie doesn’t like chocolate. So when the Devil makes her a deal—she can be skinny, pretty and immortal, but if she ever eats chocolate, she’s going to Hell—she takes it. Then the bad boy at the top of her sexual bucket list appears.. She’s tempted, but she trusts him even less than she trusts the Devil…

Nonfiction:

How to Fail & Keep on Writing

Afraid of rejections? So afraid that you never put your stories in the mail? This book will show you how to overcome fear of failure when It comes to writing, submitting, and publishing your fiction.

(Track record to date for my submitting process: 156 rejections, 12 accepts. Duotrope tells me this is better than average.)

Standalone Short Stories:

  • The Procrustean Mirror. Tom tracked his wife as far as the Zorcico before he ran out of leads. Now the bartender’s trying to tell him he can either have what’s in an old wooden box, or he can find out what Betty was coming to the dive bar for. “What’s in the box?” he asks. “Your marriage.”
  • The Cliff House. Ardahl loves his land, even though he’s been crippled in its service and trapped in the Cliff House to work the magic that brings water. But using the magic twists the land so tightly that it must break, sooner or later…
  • Threads of Life, Threads of Guilt.  Mattie’s ready to give up when her twin, Matt, drags her to Casa Eva, reputed to be St. Augustine’s “fountain of youth” for cancer patients. But can she be cured of losing her will to live?
  • Creators of Small Worlds.  Andrea had one chance to talk to Chris Demoulin before he unleashed horror on Las Vegas—and failed. Now the question isn’t, “could she have stopped him?” but, “can she keep stop herself from becoming just like him?”
  • The Woods Behind Grandmother’s House.  Ellen warned her fiance Philip not to get involved with the Rockford brothers. But now he has gone with them down a dark path heavy with deadfalls and demons, and only she can bring him back.
  • Hand of Glory.  Like a thief in the digital night. Georgia’s brother didn’t hang himself for being gay or for being bullied about it. He was murdered over something that happened in the game—possibly over a mysterious hacker’s item called the Hand of Glory or Butler’s Candelabra, that lets you go anywhere, kill anyone, and steal anything. And now it belongs to Georgia.
  • The Edge of the World.  His best friend Felix kidnapped him on dragonback to make him go to his abuser’s funeral, then tried to blackmail him into abducting changlings for them—the same thing that had happened to him. Fairies suck. Honorable Mention, Best Horror of the Year Vol 3.
  • Basement Noir.  Private Investigator Spade comes up from the basement to investigate the death of Gramps in an old hotel run by a monkey and populated by lunatics. But sometimes the person who hires you insn’t the one in charge. And sometimes the crime you’re investigating isn’t the one that needs to be solved.
  • Miracle, Texas.  The man rode into Amazon Valley the same way they all did, blindfolded, hooded, and with his hands tied behind his back. Men were trouble, and Justine liked them that way. A Weird West tale.
  • Lady of the Floods.  The gods can build in a single night a tower that would require the toil of many men over many seasons. Balathu, chief of scribes, brings the King’s offerings. Balathu is a virtuous man, but the tools of the gods are lovely in his sight, and in the sight of the King. Truly, weak men are always seized by fate.
  • Blind Spot.  An artist who sees what nobody else sees: the visual code generated by the eye’s own blind spot. A VR developer who sees the possiblities–including the threat to her life.
  • Devil Mountain.  The alien called him her beloved devil for tempting her away from her brood and tried to make him promise not to take revenge if the other humans turned on him. Now he’s on top of Devil Mountain, looking down at the town that murdered his wife, and he has no promises to keep.
  • Monsoon.  Too old to flirt with the Norwegian meditation teacher. Too young for menopause. It’s “Eat, Pray, Love” for sarcastic people.
  • Things You Don’t Want But Have to Take.  She hid from the thing for years, but it found her and came to her in a box with no real return address and her own handwriting on the label. She knew what would happen if she tried to fight the cold thing with its claws in her neck. Her only hope was to hide it from her husband…
  • Family Gods.  A young soldier returns from a war to bury his mother, only to find that his wife has betrayed him. His rage doesn’t come from his wife’s betrayal, but from the family god, a god of murder, fire, and anger that has haunted them for generations…and killed his mother.
  • Lanes of the Living Dead. It ain’t easy being divorced. But Bart’s ex-wife’s lawyer, also a voodoo priest, didn’t make it any easier.
  • The Debt:  A Zombie Tale.  He hired Dr. Skalos to put his brother to rest. He paid and paid and paid, yet still his brother walks, and hungers…
  • Mother & Child.  A boy who wants to rescue his mother from her perfect, imaginary life—at any cost. A girl who finds her life’s calling in a journal entry about a classmate’s pain. A mother who knows that just because everyone else has decided it’s Judgment Day, her daughter doesn’t have to get judged, too. Three extremely short stories of mothers, children, and the uncanny bonds between them.
  • Abominable.  You find the love of your life, and work your ass off to get her what she wants. Now she doesn’t love you anymore. You need something. You need something warm. You’re not the only one.
  • The Business That Must Be Conducted in the Dark. Master Zorac wants sexbot Annalise to follow him into the dark, but her programming won’t allow it…until she’s sent to capture him.
  • A Fly in Amber.  Three bottles of the Shackleton Scotch have returned to Scotland over 100 years after the failed Antarctic expedition. But how do they taste?

You can find my work online at all good ebookstores, including Amazon.com, B&N, and Smashwords.

 

De Kenyon Books: 2011

The year in review for my De Kenyon pen name…

The Exotics Book 1: The Floating Menagerie

Nobody knows what happened when Rachael’s mom disappeared a week ago–except Rachael’s classmate Raul. So when giant talking dogs attack him, Rachael follows and gets kidnapped, too. Now she’s on a mysterious ship full of kids who can change into animals–the Exotics. Are their capturers selling Exotics into slavery? Or are they trying to rescue them from something worse?

I also have a short story in the series up…I haven’t announced it here yet, because I’m trying to get it to go free on Amazon first.  But it’s free on Smashwords…

The Exotics:  Tigerlilly (A Short Story)

After Rachael’s friend doesn’t return on the first day of second grade, she asks her mother to find her new address so they can be pen pals. But Rachael’s mother can’t find Brenna’s family anywhere: it’s like they were erased.

Tales Told Under the Covers: Zombie Girl Invasion & Other Stories

Ten tales of death, invasions from other realms, bullies, babysitters, liars, and the brave kids who fight back. Zombie girls who have to hide, lest they get eaten by bigger zombies. Food that bites back. Wizards who are scared of their own power. Murdered (and murderous) pets. Secret superpowers. And that last, great voyage into the unknown.

And I have all the individual Tales listed separately under De Kenyon:

  • Bunny Attack!
  • Zombie Girl Invasion
  • Attack of the 50-Foot Sushi Monster
  • A Picture is Worth 1000 Chomps
  • Class Pet from Beyond the Grave
  • The Society of Secret Cats
  • Which is Bigger, the Moon or an Elephant? And Other Stupid Questions
  • The Scaredy Wizard of Theornin
  • Factory Above, Factory Below
  • The Last Voyage of the Mermaid

All books are listed on Amazon, Smashwords, and B&N online, as well as a ton of other online stores too numerous to mention.

 

Bakers vs. Cooks

In the world of making food, there are two main divisions: bakers vs. cooks (not that it’s a battle, although that would make a fun fight sequence).  Now, there are some people who are both, but mostly people will tend toward one or the other.

I’m a cook.

I don’t really like to make cakes or cookies or things like that.  When I make sweet things, they are usually:

  • Cheesecake
  • Pot de creme
  • Creme brulee
  • Ice cream
  • Creme anglaise
  • Candied orange peels
  • Candied nuts
  • Rice krispy bars*

See a pattern there?  A lot of custards.  Why?  Because, at root, custard is a sauce. Hollandaise sauce?  A heck of a lot like custard.  I don’t bake so much as practice sauce management in the oven.  I’ll make muffins and scones and bread from time to time, but only because I really, really want homemade stuff to the point where it overcomes my reluctance.

Candying things = simmering things on the stove.  I also make a pretty mean caramel sauce, no corn syrup required.  I get making sauces.  Not a professional at them by any means, but I can conceptualize what I’m doing and wing it as necessary.  A roux is no stranger to me.

I was walking around in a movie store the other day (with Lee) and saw a DVD for Ace of Cakes. I was like, “A baking show?  Who watches a freaking baking show?!?”  This, from a girl who adores Heston Blumenthal’s Heston’s Feasts show with a passion.

But, for some reason, I hadn’t realized that bakers approach things the same way, more or less, making non-dessert food that involves…baking techniques.  Approaching cooking from a baker’s perspective.  I know, it’s obvious, but obvious things aren’t obvious if you don’t see them, not if you can’t.

I went to one cake, two cake to look at a recipe and scrolled through a bunch of them…and noticed a pattern.  Hamburger bun recipe…but not hamburgers.  Savory bread pudding for breakfast…not scrambled eggs.  I looked at the list of recipes to confirm it: breakfast dishes–all baking stuff; vegetables (2 recipes)–one involved baking the veg; two soups–not baking; two seafood recipes–not baking.  The rest?  All baking.

It’s a beautiful site, by the way, and if you like baking it will probably be fascinating; I certainly wanted to eat all of it.  But I don’t really feel a passion to make any of it.  If it doesn’t start with garlic hitting olive oil in a pan or carefully thickening some combination of eggs and cream, I have to work at my enthusiasm for a recipe.  But, truly, that’s just me.

*Okay, thought.  Rice krispy gingerbread house.  Or even igloo.  We’re going to try it later today.

Twitter Weekly Updates for 2011-12-25

  • Drinking Christmas tea. Yes, I drink flavored teas. No purist, I. #
  • New chapter book/middle grade series, with animal transformation, adventure, spies, and magic. 99 cents…for now… http://t.co/hXjKQ3vr #
  • Secret identities, people transforming into animals, and a self-rescuing princess: http://t.co/K0RnRaQP Daughter of a spy queen, that is. #
  • RT @AceRimmerBot Smoke me a kipper RT @WriterDe: @DavidBrin1 So a red dwarf walks into a Milky Way bar… #
  • I played SW:TOR last night. Yes, we thinks we shall keeps it. #
  • Lee's brother Dale got Ray a copy for Christmas…she's loving it, too. #
  • Problem: I like all the character classes so far. #
  • Me too! @inkyelbows Updated Will Write For Chocolate with a new comic re: Xmas trees & book-shaped packages #
  • Dreamed that everyone had conversation bubbles with "…" underneath them, so you could click for more. An introvert's dream 🙂 #
  • Groaaaan. @DavidBrin1 Brinstorming… if I only had an “A” #
  • RT @stryscribe Robert Spiller's new Bonnie Pinkwater Mystery (4th in the series)! http://t.co/YN9LToYL #yay #
  • IF you swear on a stack of chocolate to review, there are some free Exotics books here: http://t.co/iDM9Slid Scroll down… #
  • New free ebook up, Smashwords only for the moment: http://t.co/TA7SYHHp A prequel story for Exotics. Please rate! #
  • Bullies get their just desserts in this free story by @TadWilliams: http://t.co/sPB128pu #

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Tad Williams Short Story: The Sugarplum Favor

Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors…he and his wife, Deborah Beale (they write the Ordinary Farm kids’ books together) have independently put up an ebook collection (A Stark and Wormy Knight) of short stories and novellas, of which this is one.  Subterranean Press will put out the print edition next summer.  The collection is going for $4.99 for a month and will go up in price later, so get it now.

And follow them on Twitter, by the way: @MrsTad and @TadWilliams.

As for the following story…a boy with a sweet tooth, a bully, and an altogether clever Christmas revenge wish…

 

THE SUGARPLUM FAVOR

(A Christmas Story)

Tad Williams

Danny Mendoza counted his change three times in while the teacher talked about what they were all supposed to bring for the class winter holiday party tomorrow.  It was really a Christmas party, at least in Danny’s class, because that’s what all the kids’ families’ celebrated.  Danny had his party contribution covered.  He had volunteered to bring napkins and paper plates and cups because his family had some left over from his little brother’s birthday party with characters from Gabba Gabba Hey on them.  He’d get teased about that, he knew, but he didn’t want to ask his mother to make something because she was so busy with his little brothers and the baby, and now that Danny’s stepfather Luis had lost his job they had a Money Situation.  Danny could live with a little teasing.

Danny was going to buy a candy bar for his mother, one of those big ones.  That was going to be his Christmas present to her and Danny knew how much she’d like it — he hadn’t just inherited his small size and nimble fingers from her, he’d got her sweet tooth, too.  And she had just been talking about the Christmas a few years ago when Luis had a good job with the Sanitation Department and he’d brought her a whole box of See’s chocolates.  Danny knew he couldn’t match that, but the last of the money he’d saved up from raking leaves in the neighborhood and walking old Mrs. Rosales’ wheezy little dog should be enough to buy a big old Hershey bar that would make Mama smile.  No, what to get wasn’t a problem.  The thing that had him thinking so hard as he went down the street at a hurried walk, hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets, was whether he dared to get it now or should wait another day.

In Danny’s San Jose neighborhood the Mercado Estrella was like an African water hole, not only a crucial source of nurture but also the haunt of the most fearsome predator in his 3rd grade world.  Any stop at the little market meant he risked running into Hector Villaba, the big, mean fifth-grade kid who haunted Danny’s days and often his nights as well.  Danny couldn’t even begin to guess how much candy and other goodies Hector had stolen from him and the other kids over the years, but it was a lot — Hector was the elementary school’s Public Enemy Number One.  About half the time his victims got shoved around, too, or even hit, and none of the grown-ups ever did anything about it except to tell their humiliated sons they should learn how to fight back.  That was probably because Hector Villaba’s father was a violent, drunken brute who didn’t care what Hector did and everyone in the neighborhood was as scared of him as the kids at school were scared of his son.  The last time someone in the neighborhood had called the police on Hector’s dad, all their windows had been broken while they were at church and their car scratched from one end to another.

Danny was still trying to make up his mind whether to risk stopping at the market today or wait for better odds tomorrow (when class ended early because of the holiday) when he saw Mrs. Rosales walking Pinto, her little spotted dog.  He almost crossed the street because he knew she’d want to talk to him and he’d spent a lot of time doing that already last week when went to her house to get Pinto nearly every day.  He was too close, though, she’d seen him, and Jesus hated being rude to old people almost as much as he hated it when kids lied, or at least that was what his mama always told him.  Danny wasn’t expecting much from Santa anyway, but if Jesus got upset things would probably be even worse.  He sighed and continued toward her.

“Look who’s here!” Mrs. Rosales said when she saw him.  “Look, Pinto mi querida, it’s your friend Danny!”  But when he waved and would have passed by she told him, “Hold on a moment, young man, I want to talk to you.”

He stopped, but he was really worried that Hector and his friends might catch up if he stood around too long.  “Yes, Mrs. Rosales?”

“I short-changed you the other day.”  She took out a little coin purse.  It took her a long time to get it open with her knobby old fingers.  “I owe you a dollar.”

“Really?”  Danny was astonished.

She pulled out a piece of paper that looked like it had been folded and unfolded a hundred times and handed it to him.  “I know boys need money this time of year!”

He thanked her, petted Pinto (who growled despite all their time together, because Pinto was a spoiled brat) and hurried toward the market.  Another dollar!  It was like one of those Christmas miracles on a television show – like the Grinch’s heart growing so much it made the x-ray machine go sproing! This changed everything.  He could not only buy his mom’s present, he could buy something for himself, too.  He briefly considered blowing the whole dollar on a Butterfinger, his very favorite, but he knew hard candies would be a better investment — he could share them with his younger brothers, and it was Christmas-time, after all.  But whatever he got, he didn’t want to wait for tomorrow, not now that he had something to spend on himself.  Danny Mendoza had been candy-starved for days.  Nothing sweeter than the baby’s butterscotch pudding had passed his lips that week, and the pudding hadn’t been by his own choice.  (His baby sister had discovered that if she waved her spoon things flew and splattered, and she liked that new trick a lot.)  If he hurried to the market he should still get there long before Hector and his friends, who had many children to harass and humiliate on their way home.  It was a risk, of course, but with an unexpected dollar in his pocket Danny felt strangely confident.  There had to be such a thing as Christmas luck, didn’t there?  After all, it was a whole holiday about Jesus getting born, and Jesus was kind to everybody.  Although it sure hadn’t seemed like a lucky Christmas when Luis, Danny’s stepfather, had lost his job in the first week of December.  But maybe things were going to get better now — maybe, as his mama sometimes said, the Mendoza family’s luck was going to change.

He was even more willing to believe in miracles when he saw no sign of Hector  and his friends at the market.  As he walked in Christmas music was playing loudly on the radio, that “Joy to the World” song sung by some smooth television star.  Tia Marisol, the little old lady who ran the place on her own since her husband died, was trying to hang some lights above the cigarettes behind the cash register.  She wasn’t his real aunt, of course.  Everybody in the neighbohood just called her “Tia.”

Oye, little man,” she called when she turned around and saw him.  “How’s your mama?”

“Fine, Tia Marisol.  I’m getting her a present.”  He made his way past the postres to the long candy rack.  So many colors, so many kinds!  It almost seemed to glow, like in one of those cartoons where children found a treasure-cave.  When Danny was little, it was what he had imagined when the minister at the church talked about Heaven.  The only better thing he had ever seen in his whole life was the huge piñata at one of his school friends’ birthday party, years and years ago.  When the birthday boy knocked the piñata open and candy came showering out and all the kids could jump in and take what they want – that had been amazing. Like winning a game show on television.  Danny still dreamed about it sometimes.

Danny realized that he was staring like a dummy at the rack of candy when every second the danger that Hector and his friends would arrive kept growing.  He quickly examined the big Hershey bars until he found one with a perfect wrapper, a massive candy bar that looked as if it had been made special for a commercial.  He would have loved to spend more time browsing — how often did he have a whole dollar to spend just on candy? — but he knew time was short, so he grabbed a good-sized handful of hard, sour candies for sucking, took several different colors of candy ropes; then, as worry grew inside him, as uncomfortable as needing to pee, he finally snatched up a handful of bubble gum and ran to the front counter.

“What’s your hurry, m’hijo?” Tia Marisol asked.

“Mom needs me,” he said, which he hoped was not enough of a lie to ruin Jesus’ upcoming celebration.  After all, Mom didalways need his help, especially by this time in the day when she’d been on her own with the baby and the littlest brother since morning, and had just walked the other brother home from preschool.  He pulled the three dollars worth of much-counted change out of one pocket and mounded it in front of Tia Marisol, then put the Hershey bar and his own handful of candy down beside it before digging out the crumpled dollar Mrs. Rosales had given him.  She slid her glasses a little way down her nose while she looked at it all.

“Where’d you get so much money, Danny?”

“Raking lawns.  Taking Mrs. Rosales dog for walks.”

Tia Marisol smiled, handed him back twenty-three cents, and put everything into a paper bag.  “You’re a good boy.  You and your family have a happy Christmas.  Tell your mama I said hello, would you?”

“Sure.”  He was already halfway through the door, heart beating.

The Christmas miracle continued outside: other than a couple of young mothers with strollers and bundled-up babies, and the old men who sat on the bus bench across the street drinking from bottles in paper bags, the area around the store was still clear.  Danny began to walk toward home as fast as he could without running, because he had the bag under his coat now and he didn’t want to melt Mama’s candy bar.  Still, he was almost skipping, he was so happy.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come…!

HeyMendoza,” someone shouted in a hoarse voice.  What’s in the bag, maricon?”

Danny stopped, frozen for a moment like a cornered animal, but then he began to walk again, faster and faster until he was running.  There was no question whose voice that was.  Pretty much every kid in his school knew it and feared it.

“Hold up, Mendoza, or I’ll kick your ass good!”  The voice was getting closer.  He could hear the whir of bike tires on the sidewalk coming up behind him fast.  He looked back and saw that Hector Villaba and his big, stupid friends Rojo and Chuy were bearing down on him on their bikes, and in another second or two would ride him down.  He lunged to the side just as Hector stuck out his foot and shoved him, sending Danny crashing into the low wire fence of the house he was passing.  He bounced off and tumbled painfully to the sidewalk as Hector and his gang stopped just a few yards ahead, now blocking the sidewalk that led Danny home.  The hard candies had fallen out of his bag and were scattered across the sidewalk.  He got down on his knees, hurrying to pick them up, doing everything he could to avoid eye contact with Hector and the others, but when he reached for the last one Hector’s big, stupid basketball-shoe was on top of it.  The older boy leaned over and picked it up.  “Jolly Rancher, huh?  Not bad. Not great, but not bad.”  He waved it in Danny’s face, making him look up from all fours like a dog at its master.  “I asked you what’s in the bag, Mendoza?”

“Nothing!  It’s for my mama.”

“For your mama?  Oh, iddn’t dat sweet?”  Hector’s fingers hooked under Danny’s chin and lifted.  Danny didn’t fight — he knew it wasn’t going to help — but he still flinched when he saw Hector’s round, sweaty face so close, the angry, pale yellow-brown eyes.  Hector Villaba even had the beginnings of a real mustache, a hairy smudge on his upper lip.  It was one of the things that made him so scary, one of the reasons why even bigger twelve year olds like Chuy and Rojo let him lead them — a fifth-grader with a mustache!

“C’mon, open it up,” Hector told him.  “Let’s see what you got for your mama.”  When Danny still didn’t offer up the bag, Hector’s friend Chuy put a foot on Danny’s back and pushed down so hard that Danny had to brace himself to keep from being shoved against the sidewalk.  “I said show me, maricon,” said Hector.  “Chuy gonna break your spine.  He knows karate.”

Danny handed Hector the bag, biting his lip, determined not to cry.  Hector pulled out the big Hershey Bar.  “Hijole!” he said.  “Look at that!  Something for your mama, shit — you were going to eat that all by yourself.  Not even share none with us. That’s cold, man.”

“It is for my mother!  It is!”  Danny pushed up against Chuy’s heavy hiking boot trying to reach the candy bar, which didn’t look anywhere near so huge clamped in Hector Villaba’s plump, dirty fingers.  Chuy took his weight off for a moment, then kicked Danny in the ribs hard enough to make him drop to the concrete and hug himself in pain.

“If you try any more shit, we’ll hurt you good,” said Hector, laughing as he unwrapped the candy bar.  He tossed a piece to Chuy, then another to Rojo, who grabbed it out of the air and shoved it in his mouth like a starving dog, then licked his fingers. Hector leaned down and gave Danny another shove, hard enough to crash him against the fence again.  “Don’t you ever try to hide anything from me.  I know where you live, dude.  I’ll come over and slap the bitch out of you and your mama both.”  He pointed to the hard candies still clutched in Danny’s hands.  “Get that other shit, too, yo,” Hector told Rojo, and the big, freckled kid bent Danny’s fingers back until he surrendered it all.

The Christmas chocolate bar, looking sad and naked with half its foil peeled away, was still clutched in Hector’s hand as he and his friends rode away laughing, sharing the hard candy out of the bag.

For a while Danny just sat on the cold sidewalk and wished he had a knife or even a gun and he could kill Hector Villaba, even if it made Jesus unhappy for weeks.  At that moment Danny almost felt like he could do it.  The rotten, mean bastard had taken his mom’s present!

At last Danny wiped his eyes and continued home.  It was starting to get dark and the wind was suddenly cold, which made his scratched-up hands ache.  When he reached the apartment he let himself in, dropped his book bag by the door, then called a greeting to his mama feeding Danny’s baby sister in the kitchen as he hurried on to the bathroom so he could clean up his scratches and tear-stained face and do his best to hide the damage to the knees of his pants before she saw him up close.  It wouldn’t do any good to tell her what had happened – she couldn’t do anything and it would make her very sad.  Danny was used to keeping quiet about what went on between home and school, school and home.

After a while he went out and sat at the table and watched as his mother fed green goop to the baby.  Even her smile for Danny looked tired.  Mama worked so hard to keep them all fed and dressed, hardly ever yelled, and even sang old songs from Mexico for Danny and his brothers when she wasn’t too tired…

And now that cabron Hector had stolen her present, and he didn’t have any money left to get her something else.

 

*

Later that night, when the house was quiet and everyone was asleep, Danny found himself crying again.  It was so unfair! What had happened to the Christmas luck?  Or did that kind of thing only happen to other kids, other families?

“Please, Jesus,” he prayed quietly.  “I just have to get Mama something for Christmas – something Hector can’t take.  If that’s a miracle, okay – I mean, I know you can’t do them all the time, but if you got one…an extra one…”

 

*

Something woke him up – a strange noise in the living room.  For a moment he lay in bed wondering if Santa Claus might have come, but then he remembered it was still three days until Christmas.  Still, he could definitely hear something moving, a kind of quiet fluttery sound.   His brothers were both sprawled in boneless, little-boy sleep across the mattress they shared, so he climbed carefully over them and made his way out to the living room.  At first he saw nothing more unusual than the small Christmas tree on top of the coffee table, but as he stared, his eyes trying to get used to the dark, he saw the tree was…moving?  Yes, moving, the top of the pine wagging like a dog’s tail.

Danny had never heard of a Christmas tree coming to life, not even in a TV movie, and it scared him.  He picked up the tennis racket with the missing strings Luis kept promising to fix, then crawled toward the scraggly tree with its ornaments of foil and cut paper.

As he got closer he could see that something small was caught in the tree’s topmost branch, trying to fly away but not succeeding.  He could hear its wings beating so fast they almost buzzed.  A bird, trapped in the apartment?  A really big moth?

Danny looked for one of the baby’s bowls to trap it, then had a better idea and crept to the kitchen cabinet where his mom kept the washed jars.  He picked a big one that had held sandwich spread and slithered commando-style back to the living room. Whatever the thing was, it was really stuck, tugging and thrashing as it tried to free itself from the pine needles.  He dropped the jar over it and pulled carefully on the branch until the thing could finally get free, then Danny clapped the lid on the jar to keep it from escaping.

The thing inside the jar went crazy now, flying against the glass, the wings going so fast that it made it hard for him to see for certain what it was.  The strange thing was, it actually looked like a person — a tiny, tiny little person no bigger than a sparrow. That was crazy.  Danny knew it was crazy.  He knew he had to be dreaming.

“What are you doing?” the thing said in a tiny, rasping voice.  It didn’t sound happy at all.  “Let me go!”

Danny was so startled to hear it talk that he nearly dropped the jar.  He held it up to the light coming in from the street lamp to get a better look.  The prisoner in the jar was a little lady — a lady with wings!  A real, honest-to-goodness Christmas miracle!  “Are you…an angel?” he asked.

“Let me out, young man, and we’ll talk about it.”  She didn’t sound much like an angel.  Actually, she sounded a lot like that scratchy-voiced nanny on that TV show his mama watched sometimes.  Her hair was yellow and kind of wild and sticky-uppy, and she wore a funny little dancing dress.  She was also carrying a bag over her shoulder like Santa did, except that hers wasn’t much bigger than Danny’s thumb .

“P-Promise you won’t fly away?” he asked this strange small person.  “If I let you out?”

She had her tiny hands pressed up against the inside of the jar.  She shook her head so hard her little sparkly crown almost fell off.  “Promise.  But hurry up — I don’t like enclosed places.  Honest, it makes me want to scream.  Let me out, please.”

“Okay.  But no cheating.”  He unscrewed the lid on the jar and slowly turned it over.   The tiny lady rose up, fluttering into the light that streamed through the living room window.

“Oh, that’s so much better,” she said.  “I got stuck in a panoramic Easter egg once, wedged between a frosting bunny and a cardboard flower pot.  Thought I was going to lose my mind.”

“Wow,” he said.  “Who are you?  What are you?”

She carefully landed on the floor near his knee.  “I’m a sugarplum fairy,” she said.  “Like in that ballet.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.  Look, thanks for getting me loose from that tree.”  She turned herself around trying to look down at herself. “Rats!  Ripped my skirt.  I hate conifers.”  She turned back to Danny.  “I didn’t mean to scare you, I was just passing through the neighborhood when I felt somebody thinking candy thoughts — real serious candy thoughts.  I mean, it was like someone shouting. Anyway, that’s what we do, us sugarplum fairies — we handle the candy action, especially at Christmas time.  So I thought I should come and check it out.  Was it you?  Because if it was, you’ve got the fever bad, kid.”  She reached into her bag and produced a lollypop bigger than she was, something that couldn’t possibly have fit in there.  “Here, have one on me.  You look like you need it.”

“Wow.  Wow!”  He suddenly realized he was talking out loud and dropped his voice, worried that he would wake up his mama and Luis.  He reached out for the lollypop.  “You’re really a fairy.  Do you know Jesus?”

She shrugged.  “I think he’s in another department.  What’s your name?  It’s Danny, isn’t it?”

He nodded.  “Yeah.”  It suddenly struck him.  “You know my name…?”

“I’ve got it all written down somewhere.”  She started riffling through her bag again, then pulled out something that looked like a tiny phone book.  She took out an equally small pair of glasses, opened the book and began reading.  “For some reason you fell off the list here, Danny.  No wonder you’re so desperate — you haven’t had a sugarplum delivery in quite a while!  Well, that at least I can do something about.”  She frowned as she took a pen out of the apparently bottomless bag and made a correction.  “Of course, they may not process the new order until early next year, and I’m not scheduled back in this area until Valentines Day.”  She frowned. “Doesn’t seem fair…”  A moment later her tiny face brightened.  “Hey, since you saved me from that tree branch I think I’m allowed to give you a wish.  Would you like that?”

“Really?  A wish?”

“Yes.  I can do that.”

“You’ll give me a wish?  Like magic?  A wish?”

She frowned again.  “Come on, kid, I know you’ve been shorted on candy the last couple of years but is your blood sugar really that low?  I just very clearly said I will give you a wish.  We’re allowed to when someone helps us out.”

He was so excited he could barely sit still.  It was a Christmas miracle after all, a real one!  “Could I wish for, like, a million dollars?”  Then even if Luis didn’t find another job for a while, the family would be okay.  More than okay.

She shook her head.  “Sorry, kid, no.  I only do candy-related wishes.  You want one of those extra big gummy bears?  I hear those are popular this year.  I could bend some rules and get it to you by Christmas.”

He was tempted — he’d seen an ad on television — but now it was his turn to shake his head.  “Could I just get a big Hershey bar?  One of those extra-big ones?  For my mother?”

The little woman tilted her head up so she could see him better from where she stood down on the ground.  “Truly?  Is that all you want?  Gee, kid, I could feel the desperation coming off this house like weird off an elf.  You sure you don’t want something a little more…substantial?  A pile of candy, maybe?  A year’s supply of gumdrops or something?  As long as it’s candy-related, I can probably get it done for you, but you better decide quick.”  She pulled quite a large pocket watch on a chain out of her bag, then put on her glasses again.  “After midnight, and I’ve still got half my rounds to go.”  She looked up at him.  “You seem like a nice kid, Danny, and it doesn’t look like you guys are exactly swimming in presents and stuff.  How about a nice pile of candy, assorted types?  Or if you’d rather just concentrate on — what did you say, Hershey Bars? — I could probably arrange a shopping bag of those or something…”

For a moment his head swam at the prospect of a grocery bag full of giant chocolate bars, more than Hector the Butt-head Villaba could ever dream of having now matter how much he stole…but then another idea came floating up from deep down in Danny’s thoughts – a strange, dark idea.

“Can you do all kinds of wishes?  Really all kinds?”

“Yeah, but just one.  And it definitely has to be candy-related.  I’m not a miracle worker or anything.”

“Okay.  Then  I’ll tell you what I want.”  Danny could suddenly see it all in his imagination, and it was very, very good.

 

*

The school holiday party was nice.  Danny and his classmates played games and sang songs and had a snack of fruit and cheese and crackers.  Nobody brought Chips Ahoy cookies, but one of the mothers did indeed bring cupcakes, delicious chocolate ones with silver, green and red sprinkles for Christmas.  There were even enough left over that although Danny had finished his long ago despite making it last as long as possible, he was allowed to take home the last two for his little brothers.  He suspected that the teacher knew his family didn’t have much money, but for this one day it didn’t embarrass him at all.

After the bell rang Danny followed the other third-graders toward the school gate, holding one cupcake carefully in each hand, his book bag draped over his shoulder.  He was watching his feet so carefully that he didn’t see what made the other children suddenly scatter to either side, but as soon as he heard the voice he knew the reason.

“Look at that, it’s Maricon Mendoza, yo,” said Hector Villaba.  “What’d you bring us for Christmas, kid?”  Danny looked up. The mustached monster was sitting astride his bike just a few yards down the sidewalk, flanked by Rojo and Chuy.  “Oh, yeah, dude — cupcakes!” said Hector.  “You remembered our Christmas presents.”  He scooted his bike forward until he stood directly over Danny, then reached out for the cupcakes.  Danny couldn’t help it — he jerked back when Hector tried to take them, even though he knew it would probably earn him another bruising.

“Punch the little chulo’s face in,” Rojo suggested.
Hector dropped his bike with a clatter.  The other kids from school who had stopped to stare in horrified fascination jumped out of his way as he strode forward and grabbed the cupcakes out of Danny’s hands.  He peeled the paper off one and shoved the whole cupcake in his mouth, then tossed the other to Chuy.  “You two split that,” he said through a mouthful of devil’s food, then turned his attention back to Danny, who was so scared and excited that he felt like electricity was running through him.  “Next time, you better remember to bring one for each of us, Mendoza.  You only bring two, that’s going to get your ass kicked.”

Danny backed away.  It was hard to look into those yellow-brown eyes and not run crying, let alone keep thinking clearly, but Danny did his best.  He dropped his book bag to the ground and out fell the stringless tennis racket that he had brought from home.  Hector hooted with angry laughter as Danny snatched it up and held it before him as if it was a cross and Hector was a vampire.

Que?  You going to try to hit me, little boy?”  Hector laughed again, but he didn’t sound happy.  He didn’t like it when people stood up to him.  “I’ll take that away from you and beat your ass black and blue, Mendoza.”  The bully took a step nearer and held out his hand.  “Give it to me or I’ll break your fingers.”

“No.”  Danny wasn’t going to step back any farther.  He lifted the racket, waved it around like a baseball bat.  It was old and flimsy, but he had come to school determined today.  “You can’t have it…you fat asshole.”

Behind Hector, Rojo let out a surprised chortle, but Hector Villaba didn’t think it was funny at all.

“That’s it,” he said, curling his hands into fists.  “After I kick your ass, I’m gonna rub your face in dog shit.  Then I’m gonna kick your ass again.  You’re gonna spend Christmas in the hospital.”  Without warning, he charged toward Danny.

Danny stepped to the side and swung the racket as hard as he could, hitting Hector right in the stomach.  With a whoop of surprise and pain Hector bent double, but when he looked up he didn’t look hurt, just really, really mad, his eyes staring like a crazy dog’s eyes.

“That’s…it. I’m…going…to…get…you…Mendoza…” he said, then sucked in air and stood up straight, but even as he did so a funny expression crossed his face and he looked down at where he was holding his belly.  Hector’s hands were suddenly full of crackling, cellophane-wrapped hard candies, so many of them that they cascaded over his fingers and onto the ground.  He lifted his hands in disbelief to look and dozens more of the candies slid out of the front of his open jacket — candy bars, too, fun-size and even regular ones, Snickers bars, Mounds, Tootsie Rolls, lollipops, candy canes, even spicy tamarindos.  The other children from the school stared in horrified fascination, guessing that Danny had broken a bag that Hector had been carrying under his coat.  They were so scared of Hector that they didn’t move an inch toward any of the candy that was still slithering out of the big boy’s coat and pooling on the ground at his feet.

“Oh, man,” one of the other third graders said in a hoarse whisper, “Mendoza’s going to get beat up so bad…!”

But even more candy was pouring out of Hector’s belly now, as if someone had turned on a candy-faucet, a great river of sweets running out of the place where Danny had knocked him open with his old tennis racket.

“What the…?”  Then Hector Villaba looked down at himself and began to scream in terror.  Candy was showering out of him faster and faster onto the sidewalk, already piled as high as the cuffs of his pants and still coming.

Hijole, dude!”  said Rojo.  “You’re a piñata!”

Hector looked at him, eyes rolling with fear, then he turned sprinted away down the street squealing like a kindergartner, a flood of candy still pouring from him, Crunch Bars, M&Ms,  (plain and peanut) as well as boxes of gumdrops and wax-wrapped pieces of taffy, all raining onto the street around the bully’s legs and feet, bouncing and rolling.

Rojo and Chuy watched Hector run for a moment, then turned to stare at Danny with a mixture of apprehension and confusion.  Then turned from him to look at each other, came to some kind of agreement, and threw themselves down on their knees to start scooping up the candy that had fallen out of Hector Villaba.  Within a few seconds the other school kids were all scrambling across the ground beside them, everybody shoveling candy into their pockets as fast as they could.

Danny waited until he wasn’t breathing so hard, then started for home, following the clear trail of candy that had gushed from Hector Villaba as he ran.  He didn’t bother to pick up everything, since for once in his life he could afford to be selective.  He stuffed one pocket of his jacket with candy for his brothers, then filled the other just with Butterfinger Bars, at least six or seven, but kept walking with his head down until he spotted a nice, big Hershey Bar in good condition which he zipped in his book bag so it would stay safe for his mother.  The rest of the way home he picked up whatever looked interesting and threw it into the book bag too, until by the time he reached home he was staggering with its weight up the apartment building walkway.  For once, Hector Villaba had been the one who had run home crying.

He didn’t feel sorry for Hector, either, not at all.  Scared as the fifth-grader was now, he would be all right when he reached home.  Danny had made that a part of the wish and the fairy had said she thought it was a good idea.  Jesus didn’t want even mean kids to die from having their guts really fall out, Danny felt pretty sure, so he had done his best not to spoil the Lord’s birthday.  Of course Hector Villaba probably wouldn’t have a very merry Christmas, but Danny had decided that Jesus could probably live with that.

Tad Williams Short Story: The Sugarplum Favor

Tad Williams is one of my favorite authors…he and his wife, Deborah Beale (they write the Ordinary Farm kids’ books together) have independently put up an ebook collection (A Stark and Wormy Knight) of short stories and novellas, of which this is one.  Subterranean Press will put out the print edition next summer.  The collection is going for $4.99 for a month and will go up in price later, so get it now.

And follow them on Twitter, by the way: @MrsTad and @TadWilliams.

As for the following story…a boy with a sweet tooth, a bully, and an altogether clever Christmas revenge wish…

 

THE SUGARPLUM FAVOR

(A Christmas Story)

Tad Williams

 

Danny Mendoza counted his change three times in while the teacher talked about what they were all supposed to bring for the class winter holiday party tomorrow.  It was really a Christmas party, at least in Danny’s class, because that’s what all the kids’ families’ celebrated.  Danny had his party contribution covered.  He had volunteered to bring napkins and paper plates and cups because his family had some left over from his little brother’s birthday party with characters from Gabba Gabba Hey on them.  He’d get teased about that, he knew, but he didn’t want to ask his mother to make something because she was so busy with his little brothers and the baby, and now that Danny’s stepfather Luis had lost his job they had a Money Situation.  Danny could live with a little teasing.

Danny was going to buy a candy bar for his mother, one of those big ones.  That was going to be his Christmas present to her and Danny knew how much she’d like it — he hadn’t just inherited his small size and nimble fingers from her, he’d got her sweet tooth, too.  And she had just been talking about the Christmas a few years ago when Luis had a good job with the Sanitation Department and he’d brought her a whole box of See’s chocolates.  Danny knew he couldn’t match that, but the last of the money he’d saved up from raking leaves in the neighborhood and walking old Mrs. Rosales’ wheezy little dog should be enough to buy a big old Hershey bar that would make Mama smile.  No, what to get wasn’t a problem.  The thing that had him thinking so hard as he went down the street at a hurried walk, hands shoved deep into his jacket pockets, was whether he dared to get it now or should wait another day.

In Danny’s San Jose neighborhood the Mercado Estrella was like an African water hole, not only a crucial source of nurture but also the haunt of the most fearsome predator in his 3rd grade world.  Any stop at the little market meant he risked running into Hector Villaba, the big, mean fifth-grade kid who haunted Danny’s days and often his nights as well.  Danny couldn’t even begin to guess how much candy and other goodies Hector had stolen from him and the other kids over the years, but it was a lot — Hector was the elementary school’s Public Enemy Number One.  About half the time his victims got shoved around, too, or even hit, and none of the grown-ups ever did anything about it except to tell their humiliated sons they should learn how to fight back.  That was probably because Hector Villaba’s father was a violent, drunken brute who didn’t care what Hector did and everyone in the neighborhood was as scared of him as the kids at school were scared of his son.  The last time someone in the neighborhood had called the police on Hector’s dad, all their windows had been broken while they were at church and their car scratched from one end to another.

Danny was still trying to make up his mind whether to risk stopping at the market today or wait for better odds tomorrow (when class ended early because of the holiday) when he saw Mrs. Rosales walking Pinto, her little spotted dog.  He almost crossed the street because he knew she’d want to talk to him and he’d spent a lot of time doing that already last week when went to her house to get Pinto nearly every day.  He was too close, though, she’d seen him, and Jesus hated being rude to old people almost as much as he hated it when kids lied, or at least that was what his mama always told him.  Danny wasn’t expecting much from Santa anyway, but if Jesus got upset things would probably be even worse.  He sighed and continued toward her.

“Look who’s here!” Mrs. Rosales said when she saw him.  “Look, Pinto mi querida, it’s your friend Danny!”  But when he waved and would have passed by she told him, “Hold on a moment, young man, I want to talk to you.”

He stopped, but he was really worried that Hector and his friends might catch up if he stood around too long.  “Yes, Mrs. Rosales?”

“I short-changed you the other day.”  She took out a little coin purse.  It took her a long time to get it open with her knobby old fingers.  “I owe you a dollar.”

“Really?”  Danny was astonished.

She pulled out a piece of paper that looked like it had been folded and unfolded a hundred times and handed it to him.  “I know boys need money this time of year!”

He thanked her, petted Pinto (who growled despite all their time together, because Pinto was a spoiled brat) and hurried toward the market.  Another dollar!  It was like one of those Christmas miracles on a television show – like the Grinch’s heart growing so much it made the x-ray machine go sproing! This changed everything.  He could not only buy his mom’s present, he could buy something for himself, too.  He briefly considered blowing the whole dollar on a Butterfinger, his very favorite, but he knew hard candies would be a better investment — he could share them with his younger brothers, and it was Christmas-time, after all.  But whatever he got, he didn’t want to wait for tomorrow, not now that he had something to spend on himself.  Danny Mendoza had been candy-starved for days.  Nothing sweeter than the baby’s butterscotch pudding had passed his lips that week, and the pudding hadn’t been by his own choice.  (His baby sister had discovered that if she waved her spoon things flew and splattered, and she liked that new trick a lot.)  If he hurried to the market he should still get there long before Hector and his friends, who had many children to harass and humiliate on their way home.  It was a risk, of course, but with an unexpected dollar in his pocket Danny felt strangely confident.  There had to be such a thing as Christmas luck, didn’t there?  After all, it was a whole holiday about Jesus getting born, and Jesus was kind to everybody.  Although it sure hadn’t seemed like a lucky Christmas when Luis, Danny’s stepfather, had lost his job in the first week of December.  But maybe things were going to get better now — maybe, as his mama sometimes said, the Mendoza family’s luck was going to change.

He was even more willing to believe in miracles when he saw no sign of Hector  and his friends at the market.  As he walked in Christmas music was playing loudly on the radio, that “Joy to the World” song sung by some smooth television star.  Tia Marisol, the little old lady who ran the place on her own since her husband died, was trying to hang some lights above the cigarettes behind the cash register.  She wasn’t his real aunt, of course.  Everybody in the neighbohood just called her “Tia.”

Oye, little man,” she called when she turned around and saw him.  “How’s your mama?”

“Fine, Tia Marisol.  I’m getting her a present.”  He made his way past the postres to the long candy rack.  So many colors, so many kinds!  It almost seemed to glow, like in one of those cartoons where children found a treasure-cave.  When Danny was little, it was what he had imagined when the minister at the church talked about Heaven.  The only better thing he had ever seen in his whole life was the huge piñata at one of his school friends’ birthday party, years and years ago.  When the birthday boy knocked the piñata open and candy came showering out and all the kids could jump in and take what they want – that had been amazing. Like winning a game show on television.  Danny still dreamed about it sometimes.

Danny realized that he was staring like a dummy at the rack of candy when every second the danger that Hector and his friends would arrive kept growing.  He quickly examined the big Hershey bars until he found one with a perfect wrapper, a massive candy bar that looked as if it had been made special for a commercial.  He would have loved to spend more time browsing — how often did he have a whole dollar to spend just on candy? — but he knew time was short, so he grabbed a good-sized handful of hard, sour candies for sucking, took several different colors of candy ropes; then, as worry grew inside him, as uncomfortable as needing to pee, he finally snatched up a handful of bubble gum and ran to the front counter.

“What’s your hurry, m’hijo?” Tia Marisol asked.

“Mom needs me,” he said, which he hoped was not enough of a lie to ruin Jesus’ upcoming celebration.  After all, Mom didalways need his help, especially by this time in the day when she’d been on her own with the baby and the littlest brother since morning, and had just walked the other brother home from preschool.  He pulled the three dollars worth of much-counted change out of one pocket and mounded it in front of Tia Marisol, then put the Hershey bar and his own handful of candy down beside it before digging out the crumpled dollar Mrs. Rosales had given him.  She slid her glasses a little way down her nose while she looked at it all.

“Where’d you get so much money, Danny?”

“Raking lawns.  Taking Mrs. Rosales dog for walks.”

Tia Marisol smiled, handed him back twenty-three cents, and put everything into a paper bag.  “You’re a good boy.  You and your family have a happy Christmas.  Tell your mama I said hello, would you?”

“Sure.”  He was already halfway through the door, heart beating.

The Christmas miracle continued outside: other than a couple of young mothers with strollers and bundled-up babies, and the old men who sat on the bus bench across the street drinking from bottles in paper bags, the area around the store was still clear.  Danny began to walk toward home as fast as he could without running, because he had the bag under his coat now and he didn’t want to melt Mama’s candy bar.  Still, he was almost skipping, he was so happy.  Joy to the world, the Lord is come…!

Hey, Mendoza,” someone shouted in a hoarse voice.  What’s in the bag, maricon?”

Danny stopped, frozen for a moment like a cornered animal, but then he began to walk again, faster and faster until he was running.  There was no question whose voice that was.  Pretty much every kid in his school knew it and feared it.

“Hold up, Mendoza, or I’ll kick your ass good!”  The voice was getting closer.  He could hear the whir of bike tires on the sidewalk coming up behind him fast.  He looked back and saw that Hector Villaba and his big, stupid friends Rojo and Chuy were bearing down on him on their bikes, and in another second or two would ride him down.  He lunged to the side just as Hector stuck out his foot and shoved him, sending Danny crashing into the low wire fence of the house he was passing.  He bounced off and tumbled painfully to the sidewalk as Hector and his gang stopped just a few yards ahead, now blocking the sidewalk that led Danny home.  The hard candies had fallen out of his bag and were scattered across the sidewalk.  He got down on his knees, hurrying to pick them up, doing everything he could to avoid eye contact with Hector and the others, but when he reached for the last one Hector’s big, stupid basketball-shoe was on top of it.  The older boy leaned over and picked it up.  “Jolly Rancher, huh?  Not bad. Not great, but not bad.”  He waved it in Danny’s face, making him look up from all fours like a dog at its master.  “I asked you what’s in the bag, Mendoza?”

“Nothing!  It’s for my mama.”

“For your mama?  Oh, iddn’t dat sweet?”  Hector’s fingers hooked under Danny’s chin and lifted.  Danny didn’t fight — he knew it wasn’t going to help — but he still flinched when he saw Hector’s round, sweaty face so close, the angry, pale yellow-brown eyes.  Hector Villaba even had the beginnings of a real mustache, a hairy smudge on his upper lip.  It was one of the things that made him so scary, one of the reasons why even bigger twelve year olds like Chuy and Rojo let him lead them — a fifth-grader with a mustache!

“C’mon, open it up,” Hector told him.  “Let’s see what you got for your mama.”  When Danny still didn’t offer up the bag, Hector’s friend Chuy put a foot on Danny’s back and pushed down so hard that Danny had to brace himself to keep from being shoved against the sidewalk.  “I said show me, maricon,” said Hector.  “Chuy gonna break your spine.  He knows karate.”

Danny handed Hector the bag, biting his lip, determined not to cry.  Hector pulled out the big Hershey Bar.  “Hijole!” he said.  “Look at that!  Something for your mama, shit — you were going to eat that all by yourself.  Not even share none with us. That’s cold, man.”

“It is for my mother!  It is!”  Danny pushed up against Chuy’s heavy hiking boot trying to reach the candy bar, which didn’t look anywhere near so huge clamped in Hector Villaba’s plump, dirty fingers.  Chuy took his weight off for a moment, then kicked Danny in the ribs hard enough to make him drop to the concrete and hug himself in pain.

“If you try any more shit, we’ll hurt you good,” said Hector, laughing as he unwrapped the candy bar.  He tossed a piece to Chuy, then another to Rojo, who grabbed it out of the air and shoved it in his mouth like a starving dog, then licked his fingers. Hector leaned down and gave Danny another shove, hard enough to crash him against the fence again.  “Don’t you ever try to hide anything from me.  I know where you live, dude.  I’ll come over and slap the bitch out of you and your mama both.”  He pointed to the hard candies still clutched in Danny’s hands.  “Get that other shit, too, yo,” Hector told Rojo, and the big, freckled kid bent Danny’s fingers back until he surrendered it all.

The Christmas chocolate bar, looking sad and naked with half its foil peeled away, was still clutched in Hector’s hand as he and his friends rode away laughing, sharing the hard candy out of the bag.

For a while Danny just sat on the cold sidewalk and wished he had a knife or even a gun and he could kill Hector Villaba, even if it made Jesus unhappy for weeks.  At that moment Danny almost felt like he could do it.  The rotten, mean bastard had taken his mom’s present!

At last Danny wiped his eyes and continued home.  It was starting to get dark and the wind was suddenly cold, which made his scratched-up hands ache.  When he reached the apartment he let himself in, dropped his book bag by the door, then called a greeting to his mama feeding Danny’s baby sister in the kitchen as he hurried on to the bathroom so he could clean up his scratches and tear-stained face and do his best to hide the damage to the knees of his pants before she saw him up close.  It wouldn’t do any good to tell her what had happened – she couldn’t do anything and it would make her very sad.  Danny was used to keeping quiet about what went on between home and school, school and home.

After a while he went out and sat at the table and watched as his mother fed green goop to the baby.  Even her smile for Danny looked tired.  Mama worked so hard to keep them all fed and dressed, hardly ever yelled, and even sang old songs from Mexico for Danny and his brothers when she wasn’t too tired…

And now that cabron Hector had stolen her present, and he didn’t have any money left to get her something else.

 

*

Later that night, when the house was quiet and everyone was asleep, Danny found himself crying again.  It was so unfair! What had happened to the Christmas luck?  Or did that kind of thing only happen to other kids, other families?

“Please, Jesus,” he prayed quietly.  “I just have to get Mama something for Christmas – something Hector can’t take.  If that’s a miracle, okay – I mean, I know you can’t do them all the time, but if you got one…an extra one…”

 

*

Something woke him up – a strange noise in the living room.  For a moment he lay in bed wondering if Santa Claus might have come, but then he remembered it was still three days until Christmas.  Still, he could definitely hear something moving, a kind of quiet fluttery sound.   His brothers were both sprawled in boneless, little-boy sleep across the mattress they shared, so he climbed carefully over them and made his way out to the living room.  At first he saw nothing more unusual than the small Christmas tree on top of the coffee table, but as he stared, his eyes trying to get used to the dark, he saw the tree was…moving?  Yes, moving, the top of the pine wagging like a dog’s tail.

Danny had never heard of a Christmas tree coming to life, not even in a TV movie, and it scared him.  He picked up the tennis racket with the missing strings Luis kept promising to fix, then crawled toward the scraggly tree with its ornaments of foil and cut paper.

As he got closer he could see that something small was caught in the tree’s topmost branch, trying to fly away but not succeeding.  He could hear its wings beating so fast they almost buzzed.  A bird, trapped in the apartment?  A really big moth?

Danny looked for one of the baby’s bowls to trap it, then had a better idea and crept to the kitchen cabinet where his mom kept the washed jars.  He picked a big one that had held sandwich spread and slithered commando-style back to the living room. Whatever the thing was, it was really stuck, tugging and thrashing as it tried to free itself from the pine needles.  He dropped the jar over it and pulled carefully on the branch until the thing could finally get free, then Danny clapped the lid on the jar to keep it from escaping.

The thing inside the jar went crazy now, flying against the glass, the wings going so fast that it made it hard for him to see for certain what it was.  The strange thing was, it actually looked like a person — a tiny, tiny little person no bigger than a sparrow. That was crazy.  Danny knew it was crazy.  He knew he had to be dreaming.

“What are you doing?” the thing said in a tiny, rasping voice.  It didn’t sound happy at all.  “Let me go!”

Danny was so startled to hear it talk that he nearly dropped the jar.  He held it up to the light coming in from the street lamp to get a better look.  The prisoner in the jar was a little lady — a lady with wings!  A real, honest-to-goodness Christmas miracle!  “Are you…an angel?” he asked.

“Let me out, young man, and we’ll talk about it.”  She didn’t sound much like an angel.  Actually, she sounded a lot like that scratchy-voiced nanny on that TV show his mama watched sometimes.  Her hair was yellow and kind of wild and sticky-uppy, and she wore a funny little dancing dress.  She was also carrying a bag over her shoulder like Santa did, except that hers wasn’t much bigger than Danny’s thumb .

“P-Promise you won’t fly away?” he asked this strange small person.  “If I let you out?”

She had her tiny hands pressed up against the inside of the jar.  She shook her head so hard her little sparkly crown almost fell off.  “Promise.  But hurry up — I don’t like enclosed places.  Honest, it makes me want to scream.  Let me out, please.”

“Okay.  But no cheating.”  He unscrewed the lid on the jar and slowly turned it over.   The tiny lady rose up, fluttering into the light that streamed through the living room window.

“Oh, that’s so much better,” she said.  “I got stuck in a panoramic Easter egg once, wedged between a frosting bunny and a cardboard flower pot.  Thought I was going to lose my mind.”

“Wow,” he said.  “Who are you?  What are you?”

She carefully landed on the floor near his knee.  “I’m a sugarplum fairy,” she said.  “Like in that ballet.”

“Huh?”

“Never mind.  Look, thanks for getting me loose from that tree.”  She turned herself around trying to look down at herself. “Rats!  Ripped my skirt.  I hate conifers.”  She turned back to Danny.  “I didn’t mean to scare you, I was just passing through the neighborhood when I felt somebody thinking candy thoughts — real serious candy thoughts.  I mean, it was like someone shouting. Anyway, that’s what we do, us sugarplum fairies — we handle the candy action, especially at Christmas time.  So I thought I should come and check it out.  Was it you?  Because if it was, you’ve got the fever bad, kid.”  She reached into her bag and produced a lollypop bigger than she was, something that couldn’t possibly have fit in there.  “Here, have one on me.  You look like you need it.”

“Wow.  Wow!”  He suddenly realized he was talking out loud and dropped his voice, worried that he would wake up his mama and Luis.  He reached out for the lollypop.  “You’re really a fairy.  Do you know Jesus?”

She shrugged.  “I think he’s in another department.  What’s your name?  It’s Danny, isn’t it?”

He nodded.  “Yeah.”  It suddenly struck him.  “You know my name…?”

“I’ve got it all written down somewhere.”  She started riffling through her bag again, then pulled out something that looked like a tiny phone book.  She took out an equally small pair of glasses, opened the book and began reading.  “For some reason you fell off the list here, Danny.  No wonder you’re so desperate — you haven’t had a sugarplum delivery in quite a while!  Well, that at least I can do something about.”  She frowned as she took a pen out of the apparently bottomless bag and made a correction.  “Of course, they may not process the new order until early next year, and I’m not scheduled back in this area until Valentines Day.”  She frowned. “Doesn’t seem fair…”  A moment later her tiny face brightened.  “Hey, since you saved me from that tree branch I think I’m allowed to give you a wish.  Would you like that?”

“Really?  A wish?”

“Yes.  I can do that.”

“You’ll give me a wish?  Like magic?  A wish?”

She frowned again.  “Come on, kid, I know you’ve been shorted on candy the last couple of years but is your blood sugar really that low?  I just very clearly said I will give you a wish.  We’re allowed to when someone helps us out.”

He was so excited he could barely sit still.  It was a Christmas miracle after all, a real one!  “Could I wish for, like, a million dollars?”  Then even if Luis didn’t find another job for a while, the family would be okay.  More than okay.

She shook her head.  “Sorry, kid, no.  I only do candy-related wishes.  You want one of those extra big gummy bears?  I hear those are popular this year.  I could bend some rules and get it to you by Christmas.”

He was tempted — he’d seen an ad on television — but now it was his turn to shake his head.  “Could I just get a big Hershey bar?  One of those extra-big ones?  For my mother?”

The little woman tilted her head up so she could see him better from where she stood down on the ground.  “Truly?  Is that all you want?  Gee, kid, I could feel the desperation coming off this house like weird off an elf.  You sure you don’t want something a little more…substantial?  A pile of candy, maybe?  A year’s supply of gumdrops or something?  As long as it’s candy-related, I can probably get it done for you, but you better decide quick.”  She pulled quite a large pocket watch on a chain out of her bag, then put on her glasses again.  “After midnight, and I’ve still got half my rounds to go.”  She looked up at him.  “You seem like a nice kid, Danny, and it doesn’t look like you guys are exactly swimming in presents and stuff.  How about a nice pile of candy, assorted types?  Or if you’d rather just concentrate on — what did you say, Hershey Bars? — I could probably arrange a shopping bag of those or something…”

For a moment his head swam at the prospect of a grocery bag full of giant chocolate bars, more than Hector the Butt-head Villaba could ever dream of having now matter how much he stole…but then another idea came floating up from deep down in Danny’s thoughts – a strange, dark idea.

“Can you do all kinds of wishes?  Really all kinds?”

“Yeah, but just one.  And it definitely has to be candy-related.  I’m not a miracle worker or anything.”

“Okay.  Then  I’ll tell you what I want.”  Danny could suddenly see it all in his imagination, and it was very, very good.

 

*

The school holiday party was nice.  Danny and his classmates played games and sang songs and had a snack of fruit and cheese and crackers.  Nobody brought Chips Ahoy cookies, but one of the mothers did indeed bring cupcakes, delicious chocolate ones with silver, green and red sprinkles for Christmas.  There were even enough left over that although Danny had finished his long ago despite making it last as long as possible, he was allowed to take home the last two for his little brothers.  He suspected that the teacher knew his family didn’t have much money, but for this one day it didn’t embarrass him at all.

After the bell rang Danny followed the other third-graders toward the school gate, holding one cupcake carefully in each hand, his book bag draped over his shoulder.  He was watching his feet so carefully that he didn’t see what made the other children suddenly scatter to either side, but as soon as he heard the voice he knew the reason.

“Look at that, it’s Maricon Mendoza, yo,” said Hector Villaba.  “What’d you bring us for Christmas, kid?”  Danny looked up. The mustached monster was sitting astride his bike just a few yards down the sidewalk, flanked by Rojo and Chuy.  “Oh, yeah, dude — cupcakes!” said Hector.  “You remembered our Christmas presents.”  He scooted his bike forward until he stood directly over Danny, then reached out for the cupcakes.  Danny couldn’t help it — he jerked back when Hector tried to take them, even though he knew it would probably earn him another bruising.

“Punch the little chulo’s face in,” Rojo suggested.
Hector dropped his bike with a clatter.  The other kids from school who had stopped to stare in horrified fascination jumped out of his way as he strode forward and grabbed the cupcakes out of Danny’s hands.  He peeled the paper off one and shoved the whole cupcake in his mouth, then tossed the other to Chuy.  “You two split that,” he said through a mouthful of devil’s food, then turned his attention back to Danny, who was so scared and excited that he felt like electricity was running through him.  “Next time, you better remember to bring one for each of us, Mendoza.  You only bring two, that’s going to get your ass kicked.”

Danny backed away.  It was hard to look into those yellow-brown eyes and not run crying, let alone keep thinking clearly, but Danny did his best.  He dropped his book bag to the ground and out fell the stringless tennis racket that he had brought from home.  Hector hooted with angry laughter as Danny snatched it up and held it before him as if it was a cross and Hector was a vampire.

Que?  You going to try to hit me, little boy?”  Hector laughed again, but he didn’t sound happy.  He didn’t like it when people stood up to him.  “I’ll take that away from you and beat your ass black and blue, Mendoza.”  The bully took a step nearer and held out his hand.  “Give it to me or I’ll break your fingers.”

“No.”  Danny wasn’t going to step back any farther.  He lifted the racket, waved it around like a baseball bat.  It was old and flimsy, but he had come to school determined today.  “You can’t have it…you fat asshole.”

Behind Hector, Rojo let out a surprised chortle, but Hector Villaba didn’t think it was funny at all.

“That’s it,” he said, curling his hands into fists.  “After I kick your ass, I’m gonna rub your face in dog shit.  Then I’m gonna kick your ass again.  You’re gonna spend Christmas in the hospital.”  Without warning, he charged toward Danny.

Danny stepped to the side and swung the racket as hard as he could, hitting Hector right in the stomach.  With a whoop of surprise and pain Hector bent double, but when he looked up he didn’t look hurt, just really, really mad, his eyes staring like a crazy dog’s eyes.

“That’s…it. I’m…going…to…get…you…Mendoza…” he said, then sucked in air and stood up straight, but even as he did so a funny expression crossed his face and he looked down at where he was holding his belly.  Hector’s hands were suddenly full of crackling, cellophane-wrapped hard candies, so many of them that they cascaded over his fingers and onto the ground.  He lifted his hands in disbelief to look and dozens more of the candies slid out of the front of his open jacket — candy bars, too, fun-size and even regular ones, Snickers bars, Mounds, Tootsie Rolls, lollipops, candy canes, even spicy tamarindos.  The other children from the school stared in horrified fascination, guessing that Danny had broken a bag that Hector had been carrying under his coat.  They were so scared of Hector that they didn’t move an inch toward any of the candy that was still slithering out of the big boy’s coat and pooling on the ground at his feet.

“Oh, man,” one of the other third graders said in a hoarse whisper, “Mendoza’s going to get beat up so bad…!”

But even more candy was pouring out of Hector’s belly now, as if someone had turned on a candy-faucet, a great river of sweets running out of the place where Danny had knocked him open with his old tennis racket.

“What the…?”  Then Hector Villaba looked down at himself and began to scream in terror.  Candy was showering out of him faster and faster onto the sidewalk, already piled as high as the cuffs of his pants and still coming.

Hijole, dude!”  said Rojo.  “You’re a piñata!”

Hector looked at him, eyes rolling with fear, then he turned sprinted away down the street squealing like a kindergartner, a flood of candy still pouring from him, Crunch Bars, M&Ms,  (plain and peanut) as well as boxes of gumdrops and wax-wrapped pieces of taffy, all raining onto the street around the bully’s legs and feet, bouncing and rolling.

Rojo and Chuy watched Hector run for a moment, then turned to stare at Danny with a mixture of apprehension and confusion.  Then turned from him to look at each other, came to some kind of agreement, and threw themselves down on their knees to start scooping up the candy that had fallen out of Hector Villaba.  Within a few seconds the other school kids were all scrambling across the ground beside them, everybody shoveling candy into their pockets as fast as they could.

Danny waited until he wasn’t breathing so hard, then started for home, following the clear trail of candy that had gushed from Hector Villaba as he ran.  He didn’t bother to pick up everything, since for once in his life he could afford to be selective.  He stuffed one pocket of his jacket with candy for his brothers, then filled the other just with Butterfinger Bars, at least six or seven, but kept walking with his head down until he spotted a nice, big Hershey Bar in good condition which he zipped in his book bag so it would stay safe for his mother.  The rest of the way home he picked up whatever looked interesting and threw it into the book bag too, until by the time he reached home he was staggering with its weight up the apartment building walkway.  For once, Hector Villaba had been the one who had run home crying.

He didn’t feel sorry for Hector, either, not at all.  Scared as the fifth-grader was now, he would be all right when he reached home.  Danny had made that a part of the wish and the fairy had said she thought it was a good idea.  Jesus didn’t want even mean kids to die from having their guts really fall out, Danny felt pretty sure, so he had done his best not to spoil the Lord’s birthday.  Of course Hector Villaba probably wouldn’t have a very merry Christmas, but Danny had decided that Jesus could probably live with that.

 

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