I See The Light by Arden O’Keefe

 

Prologue

All of the houses in Olde Town were glowing with colorful lights on Christmas Eve. People covered in heavy winter clothes crowded the marketplace, all shopping for gifts, food, and other essentials to celebrate the holiday. Several shop windows displayed discount banners advertising pre-holiday sales. Snow fell freely all over the town, but none of it could wash away the excited smiles on the townsfolks’ faces. As Olde Town experienced its coldest day in decades, its residents huddled around bonfires outside and fireplaces inside, while love and the feeling of togetherness warmed their hearts.

Holidays had always been magical without any kind of real magic involved, the season being the time of year when folks made amends. Foes became friends, and families gathered under one roof, despite all their differences, to celebrate the holidays. After all, forgiveness was the best gift one could give or receive.

While all the houses in the town buzzed with laughter and happy conversation, there was a lonely house outside the main part of Olde Town. It was close to the woods, and the holiday spirit was somehow lost. If it hadn’t been built so far away from the neighbors, people would have heard the harsh female voice screaming at the top of her lungs, her displeasure apparent in her tone.

The pale face of a handsome young boy peered through an open window of an upper room at something in the woods. Curiously, his dark-brown eyes seemed to be amazed at what he saw. Another scream reverberated through the house and surrounding grounds. The banging noise at ground level made the little boy jump in fear, though he didn’t look away from the woods, continuing to gaze outside, even though the look on his face changed. He couldn’t have been more than five, but the sadness in his expression was far too mature for his years. No child should have to endure as much as the boy had, in whatever short life he’d led thus far.

“I can’t take it anymore, Ma. I’m done,” the young woman yelled inside the house, shocking the elderly woman sitting on the couch, holding her head in her hands. “I have my own life. Why should I stop living it for a troubled kid like him?”

The old woman, May, looked up, her elbows still resting on her thighs. “He isn’t troubled, Chrissy. He is just a little boy.”

Chrissy stopped pacing the small living room, her reddened face throwing daggers at her mother. “This is all your fault,” she snapped, speaking through gritted teeth.

“That kid ruined my whole life. His good-for-nothing asshole of a father knocked me up when I was eighteen and then disappeared without a word. I didn’t even want him, but you made me keep him. You said it was going to be easy—you tricked me into believing that kid wouldn’t change my life. But guess what, Ma?” Chrissy threw her hands above her head for emphasis. “It changed everything. I am stuck with a kid who gets laughed at because he’s so weird. I’m ashamed to even say he’s my son.”

“Chrissy, honey, you don’t mean that. You know a child is a miracle, and a sweet child like him has to be a blessing,” May replied.

“Not sweet, not a blessing, and not my problem anymore. I give up. You wanted me to have him, I had him. Now, you handle all the craziness. I’m out of here.”

“Don’t be so callous as to leave him behind. He’s just a little boy. Where are you going to go?”

“Anywhere else would be better than being under the same roof as him.”

May huffed, obviously tired of reasoning with Chrissy. “Why do you hate him so much, Chrissy? He’s a part of you. You created him. How can you even think of leaving a part of you behind?”

Chrissy quickly sat on the edge of the couch beside her mother. “Ma, you saw what he did today. He ruined not just our Christmas, but a whole bunch of people’s Christmases. The sheriff had to form a search party to go look for him in the woods. In the woods, Ma! Stupid kid can’t even find his way around the house.”

“He’s just a child,” May repeated, “All children have a natural curiosity about everything. They make such silly mistakes. You, as a parent, need to make him understand why he was wrong to wander off,” May reasoned, even though she knew her daughter had never spoken kindly to her son to date.

“You just don’t get it, Ma,” Chrissy whispered and shook her head. “The other day I went to visit Megan with him, and that idiot started telling her that her cat was having a tummy ache,” she said, the two words sounding condescending. Chrissy then continued her rant, “…and when Megan asked how he knew the cat was sick, do you know what he said? The cat told him so herself. Ma, I was so embarrassed!”

“Yes, but he was right. I ran into Megan earlier today. She told me that her cat wasn’t eating well and that she was taking her to the vet. Chrissy, your son is gifted. Embrace his gifts.”

“He’s weird, that’s what he is. He creeps me out.” Chrissy suddenly shivered and hugged herself, trying to keep warm while looking toward the fireplace. “The brat must have left the windows open again. See, Ma? Such an odd one. Even the extreme cold doesn’t bother him.”

Chrissy watched as her mother went upstairs, as quickly as her arthritic leg could take her. Six years ago, when Chrissy had met the handsome man, a stranger in town, she thought she’d fallen in love with him. She’d ended up giving him everything, hoping he’d take her as his wife.

After they’d been together, all the man did was ghost her, leaving her behind with a child she didn’t want. Every time Chrissy thought of the man, her blood boiled. She hated him now, she hated herself for being so stupid, and she hated the mistake she’d borne. That was what he was, a mistake—a mistake who didn’t belong in this world.

The sound of a door closing upstairs, and the receding footsteps that followed, brought Chrissy back to the real world. When she saw her mother appear in the living room, she had an idea.

“Let’s send him away…” Chrissy then continued her diatribe, her excitement growing with every word. She believed she’d found a solution to their problem with the boy, but convincing her mother would be a tough task. “Look, Ma, he’s still young, and he doesn’t even know where we live. Let’s take him out of town and leave him at an orphanage. We’ll move away, too, so we don’t have to answer any questions. You and me—we can start a new life.”

Before she’d even finished her sentence, Chrissy knew her suggestions weren’t convincing enough for her mother to agree. She could see the anger forming on May’s wrinkled face. “Are you out of your mind, Chrissy? You’re talking about your own son!”

The angry tone in May’s voice shocked her. Chrissy couldn’t remember her mother ever speaking to her with a raised voice. She quickly recovered from the shock and abruptly stood. “Then, what? Do you want me to go away? Because I am this close to leaving this house, Ma. I’m done with him.”

Her mother crossed her arms over her chest. With a cold expression on her face and a matching stone-cold tone, May responded, “You’re free to do as you please. You’re an adult. You can make your own decisions, but that innocent child needs me.”

“Wait… are you… what?” Chrissy gasped. “Are you suggesting that you would choose him over me? Me?” Chrissy heard her own voice echo in the living room. Her mother didn’t respond, just staring back at her. Chrissy gave her a fake smile, wiping away the single tear that had fallen, and answered with finality. “Fine.”

The angry rant didn’t stop, even after May left the room. For the next half hour, while Chrissy packed up all her things to leave, her mother sat on the couch and reflected on the conversation they’d just had. She wasn’t the woman who’d let anger get the best of her, but she knew she’d done nothing wrong by defending and supporting the innocent little person who had brightened her life since he came into the world. How could she not make any decisions that were in his best interests? There were many mistakes Chrissy had made in her crazy life, but her mother knew the sweet child her daughter had brought into the world was anything but a mistake.

When Chrissy came back down, lugging a large suitcase behind her, she didn’t even spare a glance at her mother, brushing past May and out of the house. Her mother quickly went to the porch and watched as Chrissy threw the suitcase in the back seat of her old Chevy and drove off without saying another word—even to her son.

May had a feeling it was likely the last she’d ever see of her daughter, and yet, she didn’t try to stop her. There was no point. It was time for all of them to move on.

However, as May thought about raising a five-year-old by herself, she was overcome with emotion as she sat on the front step. Her tired eyes welled quickly as her head filled with new worries. She knew she was in for a difficult road, but several questions still haunted her about the boy—how could she keep him safe from those who wanted to do him harm, because he was so unique? That was her primary concern.

When a small hand touched her shoulder, May quickly wiped away her tears and turned to the sweet boy who sat down beside her. She picked him up with some difficulty and sat him on her lap, his big brown eyes reminding her of Chrissy.

A lump formed in her throat, but May refused to let out the sob that wanted to make itself known. “Hi, sweetie. I thought I put you to bed.”

The little boy rested his head on her shoulder and said, “I couldn’t sleep.”

“You couldn’t sleep, because Gramma didn’t tell you a bedtime story tonight, right?” May asked in a voice just above a whisper, to which he simply bobbed his head. “Come on. Let’s go inside, and I’ll tell you whichever story you want to hear tonight, okay?”

“Where did Mommy go, Gramma?” the small boy asked timidly.

May wasn’t sure what to say. How was a five-year-old child going to process the concept of abandonment? It was a fact, indeed, that her daughter had abandoned her only grandson. “Your mommy—she went on a road trip to the North Pole. She had to go tell Santa what a good little boy you’ve been and that she wanted the bestest presents sent for you this year.”

“But… but, tomorrow is Christmas,” the boy responded, raising his head to look at May. “Will she be back tomorrow?”

May smiled down at him, her sad expression hard to hide. “I don’t know, sweetie. I’m not sure.” However hard she tried, May couldn’t stop the tears from escaping her eyes

“She… she isn’t coming back, is she, Gramma?”

“Sweetie…” That was all she could manage to say between her tears. Looking into his innocent, questioning eyes, May couldn’t lie to him.

The boy sat up a bit before offering his defense. “I went into the woods, because I wanted to find that light, Gramma. Mommy said I was lying, because she couldn’t see the light, but I saw the light. You said you saw it, too. How come Mommy couldn’t?”

May sniffed before wiping her tears with her free hand. “Yes, yes, honey. I can see it. It shined so brightly last night.”

The little boy gave her a look of disbelief. “It’s… I see it now, too. See there?” He pointed toward the woods to the left of the house.

May looked in that direction and offered a smile. “Oh yes, it’s so beautiful, isn’t it, honey?” When she didn’t get a response, she turned to look at him again and asked, “What’s wrong?”

“You don’t see it, do you, Gramma. The light is on the other side of the woods. You didn’t say the truth, and you said God punishes people who lie. Will God punish you?”

May pulled him closer and hugged him tightly. “I’m so sorry, honey. I didn’t mean to lie,” she responded, cradling him for a while in her arms.

“I’m crazy, like Mommy says.”

“No! No, you’re not, honey. Look at me… you are not crazy. Your mommy was wrong to say that. I know we can’t see the light you see, but I believe in you. I believe it when you say you see the light. It’s God’s way of telling us that you’re special. It must be God’s purpose to show that light to you.”

The boy furrowed his brows. “Then… Then, why didn’t God take me to it? I went to find it, Gramma, but I got lost. The light kept running away from me.”

May looked into the woods in the direction the boy had pointed, carefully choosing her words before she answered with a smile, “Maybe it’s just not the right time for you to find it. Maybe you’re meant to find it when you’re older? I guess you’ll have to wait.”

The little boy nodded, then smiled a bit. May picked him up, standing too quickly for her stiffened leg to tolerate. She groaned in pain before placing him on his feet again. “What happened, Gramma?” the tiny, scared voice whispered.

“Oh, nothing, nothing. Gramma’s old is all, and you are growing bigger every day.” May bent to massage her aching knee, which seemed to help, so she smiled. “Don’t you worry your pretty little head about it.”

The boy ducked as she attempted to ruffle his hair lovingly, but the worry on his face stayed in place. “Please don’t leave me. Don’t go away like my mommy and daddy did.”

“No, honey. No, no! Why would I ever leave a sweet boy like you? Never, I promise.”

That seemed to calm the boy’s nerves. He went into the house, following May, who kept her promise for several years to come—until her dying breath. Sadly, the memory of Chrissy abandoning him would stay with the boy forever.

Unbeknownst to those who lived in the neighborhood of the small house, the life events of Chrissy and her child were being secretly watched by a group of odd creatures who lurked in the woods. If May had taken the time to look more closely to where her grandson had pointed, she could have easily seen a head in a long hat that jingled with its every move watching them from the woods.

After all, Chrissy’s boy was important to the bunch. They had to be sure he was safe and truly happy. The little boy—Heath--would have a big choice to make in the future.