December 10

This free short story is provided as part of the Rainbow Advent Calendar. You can check out the other authors free fiction at the group Facebook page here.

The Little Match Boy

By Eli Easton

 

Georgie’s thumbs were so cold, he could barely flip the wheel. But after a half-dozen tries, the flame burst up, golden and orange and mesmerizing. He held the lighter as steady as he could with his left hand and ran the fingers of his right over the flame. The warmth was wonderful but fragmentary, like his thoughts, a heat that promised salvation only to vanish a second later, leaving his fingers colder than before.

The wind whipped past him, causing a mini hurricane of snow to swirl up. The flame went out.

Damn it.

He blinked and lowered the lighter. Where was he? He was so cold and tired he wasn’t thinking straight. He looked around, trying to get his hazy brain to focus. A path. Snowy trees. A lamppost up ahead. Soft, new snow covered everything, including a nearby bench. There was a good inch of new snow. Pretty. And dangerous.

Central Park. I was cutting through it to get to Time Square.

He started to thumb the lighter again, the warmth addictive. But a distant warning naggled. You can’t stand here all night playing with the damn lighters, idjit. Need to get to the theaters. Need to sell what Derek gave you, and hopefully get a little extra cash for a subway ride back to Harlem and a bite to eat. Come on. Move.

Georgie dropped the lighter in his pocket and forced his feet to shuffle forward in the virgin snow. It was weird how deserted the park was. He’d never seen it like this. There weren’t even many footprints to be seen in the blanket of white. Of course, the snow was coming down hard, so it didn’t take long for unsullied white to coat everything. And it was Christmas Eve. People had better places to be. Still. He was in the middle of New York City, for crap’s sake. Even at night, people moved through Central Park. It didn’t close ’til one in the morning.

He passed several forks and let instinct lead the way. He knew the park well. He’d been in the City for over a year, and he walked through the park almost daily. He’d even slept here at times, joining others—silent and grubby—in hidey holes like under the small bridge at the carousel or in the thicker stands of bushes. He hadn’t had to do that since October, though. Not since he’d started working for Derek as a street seller of what were probably stolen goods—Georgie didn’t ask. It was a shit job, but Derek paid him cash, split everything fifty-fifty. And for only twenty-dollars a night, he could crash at Derek’s place along with Derek’s other “sales associates”. The flexibility left Georgie free to go to auditions.

Not that he went to many of them anymore. Not that he’d ever get a part.

Peddling stuff on the street beat the hell out of sleeping under a bridge. And as long as he didn’t try to cheat Derek—or fail to sell what Derek gave him, Derek was okay. Even if he was a little scary.

What a fool Georgie had been, coming to New York with stars in his eyes, hoping his voice would land him on Broadway. His “angelic voice,” as his church choirmaster, Mr. Burnsley had called it. Mr. Burnsley had been fond of saying Georgie’s voice “drew down the Lord,” especially at Christmas time. When George was younger, he’d imagined God and the angels, invisible, siting up near the beamed ceiling of the church, listening to him sing.

Pride goeth before a fall.

Georgie almost hated his voice now. It hadn’t been good for anything but conjuring up dreams and fantasies of glory that had led him astray. Maybe God did love his voice, but Broadway sure didn’t. His ambition had only had led him to this: walking alone and freezing on Christmas Eve with nothing but a coat full of fancy lighters to sell.

Perfect stockin’ stuffers, Derek had said, filling up the little pockets inside George’s coat with elaborately engraved gold and silver squares. Everyone’s lookin’ for last minute gifts, ain’t they? Go hit up the tourists and the theater crowd. And don’t come back til you sold ‘em all.

Sold them all. Sold them all.

Georgie chanted the words as he walked through the park. In the distance he saw a man and woman in an embrace, kissing. He was relieved to see anyone at all in the park. He’d been getting weirded out about the quiet. But they hurried away and vanished in the curtain of falling snow. And then the park was mysteriously empty once again.

Sold them all.

He walked past the tennis courts and Safari Playground, skirting the edge of the reservoir. His toes went numb, then his feet. He wasn’t dressed for this weather. It was freaking merciless out here. He was from the South, for God’s sake. Georgie from Georgia, Derek teased in that mocking voice of his. Georgie didn’t own clothes for weather like this. His running shoes were soaked through as were the bottom of his jeans.

The cold wet rose higher on the denim as he walked, slowly climbing his legs like a stain, like an icy wraith out to suck up his soul. Slurrrp! And his coat wasn’t all that great either. His canvas jacket wasn’t very warm, even over a sweatshirt and two layers of T-shirt. It did have a hood, though, one with fake fur around the face, and Georgie pulled it tight. Unfortunately, the button that could have kept it tight was missing, and he didn’t have a scarf. Holding it meant it he couldn’t keep his hands in his pocket, and within seconds they were aching.

Reluctantly, he pulled out a hideous pair of pink and purple puffy gloves he’d found in the playground last week. They were obviously a girl’s, and they were tight, not to mention horribly unhip, but he tugged them on anyway. He held the hood closed, but the fake fur that rimmed it was tipped with ice from the condensation of his breath. Fuck. It had to be near zero degrees. Why had he come north again? His ears and nose ached. He tried to walk faster, hoping to warm up his extremities, but his legs were too rigid and stiff to hurry.

Where was he again?

The end of the reservoir was up ahead along with a bigger path—the 8th Street transverse. Maybe he should turn right and leave the park. A voice deep inside him sounded a warning. If something happened there’d be no one around to help you.

But it would be quicker if he just kept walking straight ahead. And once he exited the park onto 7th Avenue, he could dodge into a coffee shop to get warm.

Maybe he’d forget about Times Square and the Theater District and just go down into the subway. He could busk down there, sing to draw a crowd, then try to sell the lighters. That had worked in the past. And it would certainly be warmer than up on the streets.

Need to get warm. Need to get inside. Otherwise….

His fingers ached so badly, even inside the gloves, he couldn’t bear it. He stopped and took a lighter out of his coat. Pulled off his stupid puffy gloves. Spun the wheel.

Fire. Damn, it was beautiful. Such a small thing, that flame. And yet it was so alive, dancing like a little piece of God, warm and inviting, life itself.

Like his family church back in Georgia. Suddenly, looking into that flame, Georgie was there again. He was wearing his red robe and holding a candle for the Christmas Eve service, a white one with a little paper collar.  He’d sung in the Christmas Eve service and Christmas Day cantata every single year. Every year, that is, until Mr. Burnsley had cornered him in the bathroom and begged to suck him off when Georgie was sixteen. He’d quit the choir after that.  He’d never told anyone why. He’d been so disappointed. Crushed, really.

Had God really meant nothing to Mr. Burnsley? The man was fifty with a wife and kids. Had all his piety been a lie? And did that mean God Himself was nothing but a crock? And what about Georgie’s singing? Had Mr. Burnsley said all those great things, given him solos, just because he wanted Georgie’s dick?

Church choir had been the one thing Georgie had truly loved growing up. The church was always clean and beautiful, especially at Christmas, with the big tree and all the decorations. And Georgie’s voice rang out clear and sweet as a bell in the church’s big sanctuary. Afterwards, he’d be praised and hugged by all the older ladies, and given gifts and treats. There was always a basket of food “for his family.” That was charity, but Georgie pretended that it was a payment of sorts for his singing. He was too poor to be proud.

The choir had been his only escape from his home life. Not even his drunken father was sinful enough to object when Georgie said he had choir practice. Compared to their small, dirty shack near the railroad tracks, that church had been a grand palace.

Now Georgie was marching down the aisle of the church on Christmas Eve, the white candle in his hands, his voice rising with the others. Silent night. Holy night. All is calm. All is–

The candle flame went out.

Georgie blinked. No. No, it wasn’t the candle that had gone out. It was the lighter. And he was here, and grown man of twenty, in the dark, in Central Park, in the middle of New York City. Geez. Daydreaming was one thing, but that had seemed so real. What was wrong with him? He didn’t do drugs or even much booze, no matter how much Derek offered, but that was a straight-up hallucination.

Maybe he was even more tired and hungry and cold than he’d realized. He shivered hard.

Sell them all.

He needed to get out of here. Georgie kept moving.

The wind was sharp off the reservoir. He hurried as best he could, his wet feet in wet shoes turning to blocks of ice. He was clumsy and slow and it was annoying. Somewhere around the ballfields Georgie sat down on a bench. Just for a moment, he told himself. But man, the act of sitting, stopping, was such a relief. He felt so heavy, and he could hardly feel his feet anymore. He stomped them on the ground. They might have been made of wood for all he felt it.

The warning bell sounded again in his head. Snow like this…. Temperatures like this… Dangerous. Danger. Us.

This time, George acknowledged the warning, looked at it, and tried to decide if he cared or not.

Heck, there were worse ways to go. And it wasn’t like anyone would miss him. In the sunlight, on a good day, he wouldn’t think such thoughts. But here on Christmas Eve, in the dark and cold, it was difficult to summon up much fear or even the ambition to keep walking.

A little light and warmth was all he wanted. But the lighter wouldn’t work. Surely he hadn’t used all the lighter fluid already? Cheap, stupid things! Typical Derek merchandise. Georgie opened his coat and picked another. This time the flame rose up into the night like a sliver of heaven. If George held it close to his face it subsumed the whole world. The darkness and the park vanished. His hands shook, which made him realize his whole body was shaking. His teeth made a chittering sound. He couldn’t hold his jaw still.

It was Christmas Eve. Imagine all the wonderful things happening around the city in home after home. If he could step into any of those doors, what would he wish for?

Food. A big table covered with food. Once, in his last year of choir, Georgie had been invited to the minister’s house for Thanksgiving dinner. It wasn’t a grand house, but it was made of sturdy brick, and it was warm and inviting. The minister and his wife and their four kids were  all lively and nice. There had been a beautiful cream cloth on the table, Georgie remembered, and dishes upon dishes of delicious food.

Turkey. Mashed potatoes. Gravy. Sweet potatoes thick with syrup. Pecan pie with real whipped cream. George had never seen such riches before—nor since. He could taste it. Right now. The rich flavors made his mouth water.

The lighter went out. George blinked, trying to adjust again to the blackness. Snow fell on his upturned face.

Snow on his face? Oh. He was lying on the bench on his back. That was interesting.

Need to move. Walk to Time Square. Sell them all.

But Time Square seemed so far away, the task so hopeless.

He could go back to Derek’s place. He could say it was too cold, that he felt sick, which was true. He’d seen Derek beat another of his “sales associates” before for coming back without money. But maybe Georgie could talk his way out of it. It would be the first time he’d let Derek down. And really, honestly, he just needed a warm place right now. Any place. Tomorrow was Christmas Day. He’d promise to sell them all tomorrow without fail.

There was a loud chattering sound that he thought at first was a squirrel then realized was his teeth! That was funny and he laughed. His thumb spun the wheel. He reached into the deepest part of himself. It was Christmas Eve. What was the very best thing he could imagine happening to him on this Christmas Eve?

“Hi, I’m Ray,” the man said.

He stood in front of the bench, tall and broad. His large, masculine face looked worried. “Are you okay, son?”

“Sure.” Georgie attempted to get off the bench, worried the man was a cop, but he stumbled.

Ray took his arm in a firm grasp. “You’re not okay. You need to get inside and warm up. It’s colder than Jupiter out here. Why don’t you come to mine, just for a cup of coffee? I’m only a few blocks from here.”

“If it’s no trouble,” Georgie admitted. “I am a little cold.”

Ray kept an arm around Georgie all the way out of the park and down a street to a line of brick rowhouses. The snow fell in thick, fluffy flakes, and the few cars that passed them were hushed and soft, like gray shadows.

“I’m on the third floor,” Ray apologized, with a soft smile. “That’s the bad news. But the good news is, it’s real warm. The old lady below me keeps her place so cranked, sometimes it’s like an oven in mine. Sounds good about now, I bet.”

“Sounds like heaven,” Georgie agreed, blowing on his bare, blue hands. He’d lost the puffy gloves somewhere.

But as he blew on his own skin, his breath was cold. No, not just cold, icy.

He blinked. The flame on the lighter had gone out. There was only darkness, snow that covered him like a blanket, and the hard bench in Central Park.

No. Please, no.

He wanted to cry. It had been a beautiful vision. He liked Ray, liked his craggy face and kind eyes, his shy smile. Georgie wanted badly to see what happened next.

He thumbed the wheel. Come on. Come on.

The flame sprang up—bright and gold and marvelous. He held it close.

Ray was right. It was like an oven inside his apartment. The warmth caressed Georgie’s face as he stepped inside. It was a small place, and nothing remarkable, but it felt homey. It felt  safe.

“What do you do for a living?” he asked, as Ray hung up his parka.

“Here, let me take that.” He motioned to Georgie’s coat.

“Oh.” Georgie tried to unzip himself, but his hands didn’t work right. So Ray helped him out of the canvas jacket. It was soaked and crusty with ice. Ray stepped over to a hook near the door and hung it up next to his own black coat. “Geez, you look half frozen.”

Georgie shivered, tremors wracking his body. He was cold. The heat of the apartment felt like a sauna, and it caused pins and needles in his extremities. His ears burned.

“I’m f-f-fine.” Georgie’s chattered teeth accompanied the words like castanets.

Ray huffed. “You aren’t. Geez, look at you. Your clothes are soaked. Let me get you something else to wear.”

Georgie protested but Ray ignored him. He disappeared into what was probably the only bedroom and came back holding a thick set of heather gray sweatpants, a navy sweatshirt, and socks. They looked so inviting.

“Why don’t you go in the bathroom and change? In fact, you should take a hot shower. You really don’t look so good,” Ray tutted, worriedly.

What a nice man. Ray was handsome too, in a timeworn way, with his short brown hair threaded with gray and lines around his brown eyes. Though he was older, he was in great shape, with a better build than Georgie’s. Then again, Georgie had lost so much weight the past year, that wasn’t saying much.

“I hate to put you out,” he protested weakly. But Ray took his arm and steered him towards a door.

“Hey, listen. You asked what I do for a living?  I was in the fire department for twenty years. Only I’m not now. Forced retirement. Anyway, as a first responder I’ve seen people with hypothermia. Dead ones too. So trust me when I say you need a hot shower.”

The bathroom was small and tiled in white and green. The shower curtain, Georgie noted, was dingy and printed with yellow duckies. It was sort of funny.

“In fact, a bath would be better,” Ray went on. He let go of Georgie’s arm to flip the level on the tub and run the taps. “That and a cup of coffee and some hot soup? And we might be able to avoid the E.R. on Christmas Eve. Because that, my friend, is a shit show. Believe me, I know.”

Christmas Eve. A stab of guilt filled Georgie’s heart. “I’m sorry for putting you to all this trouble. You must have other plans tonight.”

Ray stood up and looked at Georgie then. Really looked at him. His eyes were so warm and bright, bright as firelight, in fact. “You know what?  I don’t. Lame, huh? I was gonna spend Christmas alone. So I don’t mind at all. In fact, it gives me something else to think about. So please, get in the tub and warm up, and I’ll go make us some grub. Okay?”

Georgie breathed a sigh, something like joy sparking in his chest. “Okay. Thank you. You’re very kind.”

Ray smiled. “Well, it gets to be a habit after twenty years in public service.” He hesitated. “I miss it, if you wanna know the truth. So you’re doing me a favor.”

He left, shutting the door carefully behind him. “If you want to lock it, just turn the lever there below the knob. But I’d rather you didn’t, in case you get in distress and need help. I won’t come in unless you call for me, I promise. Take it slow, and I’ll check on you in a bit.”

Wow, what a thoughtful guy. Georgie really liked Ray.

The water ran and ran, loud and gurgling. Steam filled the small room. Georgie took off his clothes slowly, item by item. They were all cold and wet, even his socks and underwear, even the bottommost T-shirt. It was like shedding a skin, an identity. He let each piece drop in an ugly pile on the floor by the toilet. The clothes stank too. It had been a while since he’d had the extra cash to go to the laundry.

He wiped the steam off the mirror and looked at his face. The ice on his hair was gone, but the blond was darkened to brown from the snowmelt. He looked so pale and skinnier than ever. His eyes sparked with something like happiness though.

“Lovely to be warm,” he said to the mirror. “Lovely. Lovely.” But even though the room was steamy, his skin still felt cold and clammy to the touch.

He got into the tub. Sank down into the water. Warm, warm, warm. Warm and floaty and–

The lights went out.

On the park bench, Georgie stared at the lighter. It had gone out again. And no matter how much he tried, it wouldn’t relight. He frowned and tossed it aside. There was no sound as it plopped into the mounding snow below the bench.

He lay on his back, feet up on the bench, and stared into the sky. A hundred, no a thousand, fat fluffy snowflakes came right down at him, falling out of the gray-black night like a soft army. A tiny army of angels from heaven. Small and soft and lovely and without a care for living things.

The first noel, the angel did say,” Georgie tried. His voice was weak but there was still beauty in it, especially in the silence of the park. Beauty as bright as the snow.

Curious. He felt so at peace. Truly, he did. There was no pain, not anymore. He wasn’t even shivering now. He was just exhausted. But he fought to keep his eyes open, taking in every detail of the night, grateful for his senses and treasuring them while he could. There was the crisp, urban smell of exhaust, the low hum of the city in the distance, the silence of the park, the barely-there shusssh of falling snow, the icy beauty of the winter world.

No one back home would miss him once he was gone. Maybe his older brothers would feel sorry for him, if they ever found out. But he’d always been the odd duck. The “singer.” The gay one. Even if he’d never admitted it outloud to his family. Lord, his dad would have beaten him raw. His mom, who put meals on the table and otherwise wanted to be left alone with her cigarettes and soaps, would have let his father beat him too. She hated gays.

Georgie had a few sort-of friends in the city. Andy and Sam both worked for Derek too. But they weren’t especially close. And God only knew, the people he’d auditioned for would never notice he was gone.

The First Noel the angel did say. Was to certain poor shepherds in fields as they lay.”

He sang. The sound of his own voice comforted him. He didn’t want to  sleep. Not yet. He wanted to be back in the bathtub. He wanted to know what happened next, what happened with Ray. He wanted the dream to go on.

With numb fingers, he found another lighter in his pocket and flipped the wheel.

He was seated at a small table in the kitchenette. A bowl of tomato soup and a grilled cheese sandwich were in front of him. Nothing had ever tasted better. The tomato soup was salty and tangy and delicious. The cheese was soft and melty and so good. Georgie was starved.

Before he knew it, his plate was empty and he was scrapping the bottom of the bowl with his spoon. He looked up guiltily.

But Ray smiled. “Hungry, huh? There’s more soup and bread.”

Ray refilled his bowl and plate and sat down. Georgie ate, but more slowly this time, looking at Ray.

“You said you were a fireman?”

Ray nodded, his face solemn. “Yup. Had some issues with PTSD.  Started back at 911. I was a noob with the department when that happened. And I didn’t even show up at the scene ’til both towers were down. But I was on search and rescue for weeks. Then, last year, there was another real bad fire, and I lost a good buddy of mine. Guess it was the last straw somewhere in here.” Ray tapped his temple.

“I’m sorry to hear that,” Georgie said.

“Yeah, well. I got a retirement. It’s small, but it’s something. Gonna look for work in the new year. I’m thinking maybe I’d like to work with kids. I always liked going to the schools and all that. But not sure I can find a job in that area. Might have to do security or something.”

“Twenty years though. You must have saved a lot of people in twenty years.”

Ray shrugged, but there was resignation in it. “I sure hope so. That was my job.”

Georgie put down his fork. Now that he was warm and full, there was more space inside him to really look at Ray. Looking at him made a tendril of want curl in Georgie’s belly. Ray was a fine-looking man. He was a little older, sure, but he was still quite handsome. Solid and sturdy, with just a little bit of a tummy. His hands, wrapped around a coffee cup, were rough and strong. But mostly, it was his kindness—in his voice, in his eyes, in his deeds—that made Georgie melt inside, as if a flame had been lit at the base of his back, as if his spine were a tall white candle.

“Why are you alone on Christmas Eve?” Georgie asked. “How come you’re not married?”

Ray got a sad little smile. “Oh that. You want the real answer or the excuse I give everyone else?”

Georgie just raised his eyebrows.

“Yeah, you’re a stranger, so why not? The truth is, I’m gay. Gay as a fruitcake. And as a firefighter, I never wanted anyone to know. So I gave excuses about why I didn’t want to meet a nice girl. Yadda yadda. And here I am, forty years old, and I’m alone.”

“Oh.” Georgie wanted to reach out and touch Ray’s hand. He hesitated, but then remembered this was only a dream after all. So he did. He covered Ray’s big hand with his own. Ray’s skin was toasty and oh so comforting. “But you’re not a firefighter now.”

“Well, that’s true,” Ray smiled. “Silver lining, huh?”

“Silver lining,” Georgie agreed.

He didn’t let go of Ray’s hand. Ray’s brown eyes became wistful as they stared into his, the moment stretching thin.

“You too?” Ray asked quietly.

“Me too,” Georgie nodded.

There was music playing somewhere. Or maybe it had just begun. It was an instrumental version of Georgie’s favorite song.

Oh holy night. The stars are brightly shiiiining.” Georgie sang quietly. “It was the night of our dear savior’s birth.”

Ray smiled and his eyes got brighter. He stood and tugged Georgie’s hand. Georgie rose, still singing, and Ray pulled him close and began to sway.

The weary world rejoices. For yonder breaks a new and glorious morn….”

Georgie rested against Ray, his body so big and warm and real. With his head on Ray’s shoulder, Georgie sang.

Oh hear the angel voices.”

They danced. Georgie closed his eyes. Tears wet his lashes. He was so grateful for this moment, this vision. Maybe God did love his voice after all.

Thank you. Thank you God for giving me this.

And when Ray kissed him, it felt exactly right. Maybe somewhere, Georgie’s body was cold and stiff. But here, in the light of the flame, he was warm, his belly was full, and his body wanted, wanted like it had never wanted before, wanted with the hunger of a man reaching for love, for life itself.

The kiss grew fiery hot. Ray trembled with need, hard against his belly. Then Ray lay Georgie down on the bed and their clothes were gone. They rolled together, human skin on human skin, mouths and hands and moans. Georgie’s dick had an urgent will of its own, a seeking thing, like it had to, somehow, someway, join with Ray. And Ray’s dick thrust at Georgie with the same intensity, as if their biology knew something they didn’t know, as if, by some magic, they could merge into a single, stronger being.

And why not? Why not have it all, here and now, in this wonderful vision? So Georgie pushed Ray onto his back and climbed over him. He took Ray inside him like a gasp of air, like the light of a flame striking his pupils and bringing everything around him into focus. And because they were safe in the fire’s light, he sank onto Ray easily, soft and open. He interlaced his fingers with Ray’s, Ray’s arms propping him up as Georgie rocked, chasing the highest pleasure. Their gazes locked together, unafraid of the vulnerability of such an act.

His heart sang: Oh night divine.

“Oh night divine,” Georgie whispered and opened his eyes. The lighter had gone out. His lips still moved to the words of the song.

He was suddenly freezing. Cold, clammy sweat stung under his arms. His body had warmed—from dreaming of Ray, from dreaming of sex. Even in his near-frozen state, his body had roused itself. Wow, the sexual urge was seriously primal, wasn’t it?

The irony was, now he actually hurt again. His comfortable numbness had retreated.

He looked up at the sky. The snow had stopped.  Should he get up now? Maybe he should try to move. Maybe he wasn’t ready to give up on life after all. The lingering images from his dream lurked in his mind, teasing him with hope, with possibilities. What if there was true love out there, waiting? Nothing grand, just a nice man like Ray and a safe, warm place.

Fine. Damn it.

He tried to sit up, but he was so stiff. He groaned.

“Hey! Are you all right?”

A figure ran towards him. It was a man wearing a bulky coat, hood pulled up. Georgie should probably be alarmed, but he felt too weak to get worked up about it. The man fell to his knees at the bench.

“You okay, buddy? You don’t look so good.” The man ripped off a black glove and firm fingers pressed to Georgie’s throat. “Geez, your skin is freezing, and your pulse is too slow. You’re soaking wet, kid. We need to get you to a hospital.”

“No.” Georgie struggled to stand. “Can’t. I don’t have insurance. And I’m all-all right.” His teeth chattered, making speech difficult. “Just need to get i-inside for a bit.”

The man pushed back his hood, his face troubled. “Do you have someplace to go?”

There was only the dim light from a nearby lamppost, but Georgie would recognize him anywhere. He gasped. “Ray?”

Ray blinked. “That’s me. Do I know you?”

Georgie just stared, trying to piece it together. But it all felt so surreal. “Um….”

“I was a firefighter, so we probably met somewhere on the job. Look, I just live a few blocks away. If you want, you can come home with me, and we can see how you’re doing once you get warm. I really don’t think you should go far without someone to look after you.”

Georgie nodded, hard. “Yes. Okay. Please.”

Ray gave him a weird look because he sounded so eager. “You really shouldn’t trust strangers, you know. Not that I’m gonna hurt you. Here.” Ray pulled out his wallet and showed Georgie an ID with an official looking seal FDNY–Fire Department New York. “Just so you know I’m on the level.”

Georgie stared at it. He was a firefighter too?  “Um. I trust you.”

“Okay. Well, come on. You’re gonna get hypothermia standing out here. Can you walk?”

“Uh-huh,” Georgie said. But he moved like an old man. Still, he could feel his feet again.

Ray put one arm around his back and grasped his forearm, supporting him seemingly without effort and moving him towards the exit from the park.

Georgie flexed his fingers. They felt better too, cold but not numb. He should be in much worse shape. Had he merely dreamed he was about to die? Or was he dead now? How could this be real? How could he dream Ray, and then the man himself show up? But it felt entirely real, even down to the gnawing hunger that had woken up in his belly.

With every step they took out of the park, Georgie became more certain. It was a miracle. An honest-to-God, Christmas Eve miracle.

They crossed Central Park West at the light.

“How did you find me?” Georgie managed, his voice croaking.

Ray’s face went through several complex emotions. Surprise. Confusion. Then something like wonder. “Um. Well. I went out for take-out, and I was nearly home when something told me to take a quick walk through the park. It’s such a cold night. People die in the park all the time on nights like this. And the park is patrolled, but it’s such a big area….” Ray trailed off. Swallowed. “And then… then I heard the most beautiful thing. A voice. You were singing.”

“I was?”

Ray nodded. “You didn’t realize it? It was beautiful. You… you sounded like an angel.” Maybe it was the cold, but the red in Ray’s cheeks sure looked like a blush.

Georgie thought about it, and about the way, as a boy, he’d imagined God and the angels in the rafters of the church, smiling down at him, pleased with his song.

“Maybe it was heaven singing for me,” Georgie said quietly, squeezing Ray’s hand.

Oh hear the angel voices. Oh night divine.

THE END

This free short story is provided as part of the Rainbow Advent Calendar. You can check out the other authors free fiction at the group Facebook page here.

Also check out my new Christmas book, Desperately Seeking Santa. Click on the graphic below.