It’s December and the final authors’ Round Robin of the year. Since I love Christmas stories of all kinds, this has to be my favourite challenge of the the past twelve months: write a piece of fiction in the Christmas spirit. Hooray!
First of all, if you’ve been following my blog for a while, you might remember how earlier this year I put together an anthology with eight other authors from the Romantic Novelists’ Association. Our stories are set in a fictional version of the Yorkshire mill town of Hebden Bridge, where we often meet up. We wrote Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings for fun, and so we were really touched and surprised to find that readers took our Miss Moonshine to heart. The anthology went on to be an Amazon bestseller.
Next year we’ll be releasing another anthology featuring our beloved Miss Moonshine, this time with all her stories set at Christmas. I’ve been working on my own story already, while I’m in the Christmas spirit :) My December Round Robin is the opening I’ve written to my story, Miss Moonshine and Alfie (working title).
This is still a work in progress…but I hope you enjoy it!
Miss Moonshine and Alfie
The evening shadows were falling when Alfie finally began the drive home. He had a long way to go to reach the farm, but he didn’t have the heart to urge his horse to go any faster. Poor Molly was getting old, and so he allowed her her own pace, a half-trot, half-amble, as they jolted over the streets of Haven Bridge. There was the threat of snow in the clouds, and the cart was loaded with provisions. A Christmas tree – a last, impulsive purchase on Alfie’s part – was perched perilously on top of everything else behind him. It had cost a whole four pennies of the money his dad had carefully doled out. He wasn’t looking forward to the trouble he’d be in when he got home, but they’d always had a tree, no matter how little they could afford it. His mam had always wanted one.
At the thought of his mother, Alfie’s chest tightened. He pulled himself up straight and kept his eyes on the street ahead, blinking away the sudden blurring in his vision. They were approaching Miss Moonshine’s Emporium, and its archway, covered in the most beautiful red and white flowers, distracted him for a moment. Flowers, in December! How his mother would have loved it.
Alfie turned to give the shop a closer look and noticed a figure in a navy dress gazing up, too, at the winter blossoms. It was Mary Collinge. Her whole face, apart from her eyes, was completely covered against the cold by a plaid shawl, but Alfie would know her straight-backed figure anywhere. She turned and ducked beneath the flowers, into the grounds of Miss Moonshine’s.
On an impulse, Alfie drew his horse to a standstill and leapt down, throwing the reins over a post on the ironwork railing. His heart was beating quickly. How strange it was. Two years ago Mary had been just one of the other mill girls. A girl. The enemy. Someone to tease. Now just the sight of her had him acting in a way his former childish self would have laughed at with scorn.
He passed under the sweet-smelling arch to find Mary standing in the glow of the shop window. Her nose was almost pressed to the glass, and she was peering at something intently. She turned at the sound of Alfie’s approach, and when she saw who it was, he could swear her cheeks flushed beneath the covering of her shawl. Another thing that had changed. Last Christmas, Mary would have tossed her head. Alfie was a boy. Someone to give the cold shoulder. Now she seemed quieter, more hesitant, and her reserve increased Alfie’s own shyness.
He took his cap off at the sight of her – another thing he would never have done before – and stepped up to stand at the window.
‘What are you looking at?’ His voice had stopped squeaking these days. It had a new gruffness he had yet to grow used to.
‘Beautiful, aren’t they?’
Mary pointed at a large black plate, in the centre of which was a pair of white mittens. Their fur was a startling white; a white of dazzling softness that gleamed against the ebony background.
Alfie glanced from the mittens to Mary. Her face was pale and pinched and her expression wistful. He noted the finger that was pointing, and the knitted glove that encased it, the navy wool all worn and fraying. She was trembling in the cold and she pulled down her hand and bundled it back under her shawl.
Alfie felt an urge to put his arms around her, to warm her, and had even made a move to do so when luckily he came to his senses. What would she think of him if he did something like that? Give him a right good slap, no doubt!
He hunched his shoulders against the biting air and said the first thing that came into his mind. ‘What use are white gloves, anyway? They’ll only get mucky.’
Mary said nothing. Alfie could have kicked himself. What a stupid thing to say. He thought he’d hurt her feelings, but after a short pause she lifted her head, flashing him a scornful look, and for an instant the old, childish Mary returned.
‘What do you know about it, any road, Alfie Thomas?’ She turned sharply on her heels and made off.
Alfie felt the colour mount to his cheeks. Now to cap his awkwardness, he was blushing. He shuffled his feet, his eyes falling again on the white mittens. An idea took hold of him that surprised him with its boldness. Perhaps he could buy Mary the mittens for Christmas. Then he caught sight of the price tag. Two shillings and sixpence! His spirits sank as quickly as they had risen. Who could afford that kind of money? He couldn’t even earn a wage in the mill, like the other half-timers at the village school, not since Mam died. His dad needed him on the farm, where he drudged day in, day out, after school, and all for nothing.
Alfie was filled with an overwhelming, and unusual, sense of self-pity, so strong he could barely swallow the lump in his throat. He was about to turn and trudge back to his cart, when the door of the shop opened, letting out a beam of light and warmth. On the doorstep stood Miss Moonshine.
Alfie took a step back and eyed the old lady warily. A few years previously he’d been part of a reckless group of lads, and they’d done a foolish thing. A very foolish thing. But Miss Moonshine held her lamp aloft and as Alfie wiped his eyes she looked at him with a kindly expression.
‘So it’s you, Alfie.’ Her eyes twinkled. ‘Come in. I’ve been expecting you.’
To be continued…when I’ve finished writing it!
I hope you’ve enjoyed this taster of my new Miss Moonshine story. The other eight authors in the anthology have some brilliant ideas for their own stories – and I can’t wait until next Christmas to read them all!
In the meantime, if you’d like to find out what the authors in our Round Robin have written for Christmas, please do drop in on the links below.
And if you still haven’t read our first anthology, Miss Moonshine’s Emporium of Happy Endings, it’s available on Amazon in print and for Kindle.
Happy Christmas – and happy reading!
Skye Taylor http://www.skye-writer.com/blogging_by_the_sea
Helena Fairfax http://www.helenafairfax.com/blog
Beverley Bateman http://beverleybateman.blogspot.ca/
Anne Stenhouse http://annestenhousenovelist.wordpress.com/
A.J. Maguire http://ajmaguire.wordpress.com/
Fiona McGier http://www.fionamcgier.com/
Connie Vines http://mizging.blogspot.com/
Diane Bator http://dbator.blogspot.ca/
Dr. Bob Rich https://wp.me/p3Xihq-1qI
Victoria Chatham http://www.victoriachatham.com
Rhobin L Courtright http://www.rhobinleecourtright.com