Santa and the snow witch, p.1

Santa and the Snow Witch, page 1

 

Santa and the Snow Witch
 


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Santa and the Snow Witch


  Santa and the Snow Witch

  Linda Winstead Jones

  Copyright © 2019 by Linda Winstead Jones

  All rights reserved.

  No part of this book may be reproduced in any form or by any electronic or mechanical means, including information storage and retrieval systems, without written permission from the author, except for the use of brief quotations in a book review.

  * * *

  Cover design by Elizabeth Wallace

  http://designwithin.carbonmade.com/

  Created with Vellum

  Contents

  Chapter 1

  Chapter 2

  Chapter 3

  Chapter 4

  Chapter 5

  Chapter 6

  Chapter 7

  Chapter 8

  Chapter 9

  Chapter 10

  Chapter 11

  Epilogue

  Bigfoot and the Librarian

  About the Author

  Also by Linda Winstead Jones

  Chapter 1

  Christmas in Mystic Springs was always special.

  Luke Benedict had many fond memories of holiday magic from his childhood. Then and now, colorful lights were strung along Main Street. Each year a tall tree was placed at the south end of the street, where it was appropriately bedecked. The size of the tree and the style of the decorations varied, with only one adornment in place year to year; The Franklin Star, which was said to bless the town for the coming year. Each Christmas Eve that star sparkled as the town gathered around the tree, casting rays of light that bathed and blessed the town.

  Luke even enjoyed the heated arguments between Springers about whether or not they should celebrate Christmas or the Winter Solstice. Of course, they celebrated both.

  Back in the day there had been more businesses downtown and a larger number of occupied homes, and the lights along Main Street had been strung more expertly. Window displays had been more elaborate, and the holiday cheer of businesspeople and their customers had been cheerier. A few years ago, The Franklin Star had shone more brightly. Still, Luke continued to enjoy the lights and the air of optimism that always seemed to thrive after Thanksgiving passed.

  Now that he was an adult, he played a big part in making the holiday special. Some called him Mystic Springs’ very own Santa.

  In addition to owning and operating Benedict’s Hardware, Luke was the resident handyman. Not everything could be fixed with magic. If that was the case, he’d be out of business fast. He scheduled most of his repairs for Sunday afternoon or in the evenings, but now and then one of his brothers would watch the store for an hour or two while he handled an emergency job. Travis was Mystic Springs’ police chief, and Mike worked in Eufaula as an insurance salesman. Both stayed pretty busy, so their help was spotty at best.

  A busy workday behind him, Luke walked the second-floor hallway of the EGG — aka The Mystic Springs Retirement Village for the Exceptionally Gifted — headed to his grandmother’s room. Normally he tried to ignore the tidbits of knowledge that came to him as he passed one door and then another, but this time of year he paid close attention to it all.

  His gift was that he knew what people needed before they did.

  There were days he wished his ability was stronger. Sure, he knew if you needed batteries or socks or shoestrings but, with rare exception, he never saw anything momentous. He’d seen that the town needed Marnie Somerset — Marnie Maxwell, now — the librarian, in order to survive, but that had been an aberration.

  As was the case with much Springer magic, he never saw what he needed. Not a light bulb, not a loaf of bread. Nothing.

  Unimpressive as it was, his gift was stronger than that of his brothers. His grandmother liked to blame their Non-Springer mother for that lamentable fact.

  As Luke walked the hallway, he made mental notes. In ten days’ time, on Christmas Eve, a large number of gifts would be placed under the Main Street Christmas Tree. During the annual party, which would take place up and down Main Street, Springers would look under that tree to see if there was something there for them. He couldn’t manage gifts for everyone in town, but he never forgot the EGG residents. The woman in apartment 212 needed stamps and stationery; the man in 215, socks. Those he left gifts for always seemed to appreciate what they received, but he had to admit it was hardly exciting.

  Helen Benedict had been living at the EGG since Luke’s parents had left town almost seven years ago. She complained a lot, but most of the time she liked it here. The food was good; they played cards and bingo and gossiped as if it were a competitive sport. She had a couple of close friends here, which helped. Luke suspected those three were the worst of the gossips. Every holiday was enthusiastically celebrated at the EGG. Especially Christmas.

  He knocked on her door as he opened it and stepped into the apartment without waiting for a response. His Nana had called him insisting on a visit, so he was expected.

  Her apartment was small, but nicely laid out. Directly to his left was a rarely used galley kitchen. Nana ate three meals a day in the dining room downstairs and didn’t have much use for her small kitchen. She did bake on occasion, when the mood struck her. At the moment the place smelled like cinnamon, so he guessed she’d been baking holiday cookies. She always did. The main room had all the comforts she needed for her everyday life. A couch, two chairs, a TV, and a small dining table and chairs, in case she wanted a midnight snack or to prepare and eat a rare meal on her own. To the right was a single bathroom and a small bedroom, which she’d decorated in her favorite color.

  Purple.

  She smiled for a moment, then pursed her lips and grimaced. “You look thin. Have you lost weight? Are you eating?”

  “I eat plenty, and I haven’t lost any weight. If people don’t stop bringing cookies into the store, I’m going to gain twenty pounds.”

  The smile came back. “Everyone wants to feed Santa cookies.”

  His response was a grumble, of sorts.

  “Your father called this morning,” she said, clearly perturbed. “I tried to talk him into coming home for Christmas, but he said they’d be here after New Year’s, as usual. That woman…”

  “My mother,” Luke said as he walked toward his grandmother and lowered himself into his favorite chair.

  “Yes, your mother,” Nana snapped. “She never did like it here, and Christmas always freaked her out. She should’ve enjoyed the snow, not spent years obsessing over the fact that it might be considered unnatural. How else are we going to get snow in South Alabama if not with a bit of magical assistance?” She huffed a bit. “I don’t know why your father couldn’t have fallen in love with a Springer.”

  Luke didn’t respond. They’d had this conversation a thousand times. Helen Benedict took little comfort in the fact that her daughter-in-law had agreed to stay in Mystic Springs until her three sons were grown and could decide for themselves whether or not they wanted to stay. They all had.

  Another fact which should please the Benedict matriarch.

  “If you, or Mike, or Travis would make some babies, your parents would visit more often. Mike and Cindy are trying, they try all the time…”

  “Nana,” Luke said in a censuring voice. “I don’t want to hear it.”

  She ignored him. “Travis is a lost cause. He’s the oldest, he should’ve had babies years ago. If he hasn’t found a wife by his age, he likely never will. Why, he’s almost 40!”

  “He’s 36,” Luke argued.

  “As I said, almost 40.”

  Everyone in the family wanted more Benedict babies. His mother, his grandmother, even his dad. Luke wondered why. Would Mystic Springs even exist in twenty years? Maybe. Maybe not. He couldn’t imagine
raising a family anywhere else, which made long-term plans difficult. If the town simply faded away, everyone would have to move on. Everyone would have to leave their magic behind.

  Beyond the city limits Springer magic faded until it disappeared entirely.

  “I have a hundred gifts to wrap so I can’t stay long,” he said. “Is there anything else?” It had not been necessary for her to call him over to share the news of his parents’ visit, which had not altered in the past few years, or to bemoan the lack of babies.

  Suddenly serious, his grandmother looked him in the eye. “As you know, you inherited your gift from me.”

  “From you and my father, yes.”

  “Mine was different, individual to me just as yours is individual to you.”

  He didn’t need to be told that his abilities were inferior to what hers had been, before they’d started to fade when she’d been well into her eighties.

  “I never did see the practical side of need, as you do.”

  Practical. That was one way to put it.

  She looked him in the eye. “Every now and then I still see need in someone. Often the vision comes in dreams, or while I’m sitting in my chair half asleep. It’s rare these days, but when the knowledge does come it hits like a thunderbolt.”

  “What did you see?”

  She gave him a sly smile. “I saw you. I know what you need.”

  He waited for her to continue in her own time, which she would when she was good and ready.

  “Luke Benedict, you need a woman.”

  He couldn’t argue with that, though he supposed Nana’s definition of need and his were not the same, at this moment.

  “Even more,” she continued, “she needs you.”

  Okay, he’d bite. “Got a name for this woman?”

  “You’ll have to figure that out for yourself.” She rose from her chair and headed for the kitchen. “Want a cookie?”

  Jordan Teague Carter slipped into her back yard long after full dark had fallen. The days were short; she didn’t have to wait long for the cover of darkness. She didn’t bother with a sweater, or even a long-sleeved shirt. Cold weather had always invigorated her, even as a child, but her need for cold had been more pronounced in the past four years. She was likely to wear sundresses in January and February, and while she had a coat packed away somewhere, she wouldn’t be able to find it easily.

  December in Alabama, especially this far south, didn’t always mean cold weather. As a matter of fact, true cold was rare in her hometown.

  It wasn’t cold now. Not that it made a difference for her current purposes; not that it should make a difference. The sun had set hours ago, and still the outside temps were near fifty.

  It didn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter.

  She lifted her right hand and willed the snow to come. Not a lot, just a flake or two. A warmup in preparation for Christmas Eve. A test.

  Nothing happened; not a burst of cold or a single snowflake.

  The Teagues had been making it snow in Mystic Springs for, well, forever. At least, as far back as anyone remembered. For years it had been her father who’d called up snow on Christmas Eve, to the delight of Springers young and old. It was pretty; the flakes caught the color from a thousand Christmas lights, they swirled and danced and landed in soft, white pillows on the ground.

  This was not a hilly part of the country, so whether there was snow or not sledding wasn’t possible. Unless you built a hill, as the Milhouses had. They were a rowdy bunch, but didn’t mind sharing their hill — a wooden ramp that would fit on the back of Harry’s pickup truck — on Christmas Eve. Harry and his boys had the chore down to an art. They’d unload the ramp piece by piece and assemble it in the street, normally in front of the grocery store. When Christmas Eve fell during a full moon, the Milhouses, werewolves all, made sure the ramp was set up before dark. In any case, when the ramp was in place and the Springers had all gathered, a magical snow began to fall.

  Since her father had passed three years ago, Jordan had been the one calling up the snow. It had become her job, her responsibility. She didn’t mind; she actually liked snow. It was cold, pure, and beautiful. Manipulating the weather had never been easy; it always took a lot out of her. But last year the task had been harder than she’d remembered, and the snow hadn’t lasted as long as it normally did.

  When she’d diverted the storm for Marnie Maxwell’s wedding, it had exhausted her. It had been almost a week before she’d felt herself again.

  Her gift was fading. She was too young for the weakening to be natural, it shouldn’t be happening, but here she stood, ten days until Christmas Eve, and she couldn’t manufacture even a single flake.

  She had power, she knew it. Even if she did let it rest, even if she did try to deny her powers for 364 days out of the year… it was there. She’d never told anyone that unlike most Springers — perhaps unlike all — her power didn’t stop at the city limits.

  Standing in her own back yard, frustrated, annoyed with herself, and a little scared, Jordan felt as if she were marking time, as if she were waiting for life to happen. After her father had passed, joining his wife in whatever afterlife awaited, she’d simply continued on, living in her father’s house, taking on the responsibilities of a Teague. They were simple enough. Keep the weather clear for special events and call up snow on Christmas Eve.

  If she couldn’t do that, did she even belong here?

  Chapter 2

  Luke opened Benedict’s Hardware ten minutes early. Why not? It was a busy time of year. There weren’t many residents left in Mystic Springs, but there weren’t a lot of places for last minute shoppers, either. The two boutiques, an antique store, and him. Some drove out of town to do their holiday shopping, going into Eufaula or even further, but most stayed right here, doing their best to keep the locally owned businesses thriving.

  Some had, but empty spaces along Main Street were clear evidence that the town was struggling.

  The store hadn’t been open ten minutes before Luke saw Jordan Carter at his door. He was a little surprised. She kept to herself, and had since returning to Mystic Springs four years ago, after her Non-Springer husband had died. She rarely ate at Eve’s or Ivy’s, and didn’t bother with the occasional town council meeting or block party. She ran her father’s ice cream shop, lived in the house he’d left her, and responded to the rare request that she use her magic for the good of the town.

  The solemn woman he saw on occasion bore little resemblance to the bright and happy young girl she’d once been. She’d been several years behind him in school, so he hadn’t paid all that much attention to her, but he did remember. He remembered braces and pigtails and long, skinny legs. He also remembered the young woman she’d grown into before leaving town. She’d been happier then, brighter. She’d smiled. Jordan had never been what anyone would call gregarious, but she hadn’t been a hermit, either.

  She was pretty much a hermit, these days. Apparently losing her husband had shattered her. Since coming back to Mystic Springs, she hadn’t been the same.

  Jordan entered his store and looked around, as if checking to see if anyone else was present. Assuring herself that they were alone, she walked to the counter and placed her hands there, palms down. Okay, so maybe he remembered her as a little girl, but she’d grown into a stunningly beautiful woman. Pale blond hair, blue eyes, perfect skin.

  She should be the most sought after woman in town, but she’d made it clear that she wasn’t in the market for a man. Too bad. Luke had been tempted more than once to ask her to join him for dinner, or maybe for a Sunday afternoon by the river. He wasn’t brave enough to try. Donnie Milhouse had made the mistake of coming on to her a couple of years back. He’d ended up a werewolf-cicle, for a short time. Jordan had literally frozen him in his tracks.

  After that the men in town — including Luke — had left her alone. Looking at her now, he considered that maybe it would be worth the risk.

  “Aren’t you cold?” he asked.
She was dressed for summer, in a sleeveless blouse, shorts, and sandals.

  “I never am these days.” She looked him in the eye, hesitated a moment, and then asked, “Do you see what I need?”

  Luke was stunned. No one asked him what they needed, they waited for him to offer what he saw. What he knew. “No, sorry.”

  “Can you try?”

  It was then that he recognized the fear in her voice, the tension in the set of her mouth and the spark in her eyes.

  “It doesn’t work that way. Maybe you don’t need anything.”

  She backed away, a little. “I need something, I just don’t…” She lifted one hand, reached out slowly. “Maybe if you touch me, you’ll see.”

  Luke started to say that wouldn’t help, but he’d be a fool not to take that slender hand for a moment. He was many things, but he was not a fool.

  Jordan’s hand was icy cold, but he held on and didn’t let his surprise show. He wrapped his fingers around that hand, concentrated on her and her alone for a long moment or two.

  Nothing.

  “Sorry.” He released her, letting his fingers rake over her palm. “Why do you think you need something in particular?”

  Jordan shook her head and backed away. She was going to run, he saw it in her. Panicked, she was going to bolt.

  It didn’t take any magic to see that what she needed right now was a friend. “I don’t know why you’re so upset, but tell me what’s wrong and I can try to help. There are just nine days until Christmas Eve, and we need you at your best,” he teased. “You and I will both be busy, handing out presents at the festival and then making it snow.” He smiled at her.

 
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