The Christmas Storm by Trent McDonald
The wind whistled through the window radiating a bone chilling cold into the room. Caelan Campbell didn’t care and pushed the curtains aside to try to get a look down to the cove. He could make out very little through the frosted window beyond the slashes of snow, but he could see a darker area that he guessed must be open water. If Father’s ship came in, would they be able to keep the lanterns lit? Perhaps he’d see the pale sails as the schooner came in, though he doubted they’d have the sails up under the lashing wind.
With a shiver Caelan lay back down by the grate. Warm air came up from the living room, its cozy fire keeping the Nor’ Easter out of the house. Not only did the warm air flow up to his dark bedroom, but Mom’s and Maggie’s voices made their way through that hole in the floor.
“It’s just past high tide now,” Maggie said. “In a few hours he won’t be able to make it over the shoals. I doubt he’ll make it in by Christmas morning.”
“My child,” Mom’s voice floated up, “he won’t be sailing on a night like this. This storm’d dash the Mari to pieces. No, if he’s on his way he would have had to put in port somewhere. He’s already almost a week late from St John’s, he may have been laid up for a while now.”
“Why’d he have to go anyway?” Maggie asked. “Nobody goes for more than a day or two this time of year.”
“Hush child,” Mom answered. “You know.”
Caelan knew. He closed his eyes and tried to picture his village from the sea. It wasn’t hard since he’d been out a million times.
The harbor was a relatively calm bit of water surrounded by shear rock. The entrance was tight enough to limit the weather but big enough to allow even a three or smaller four mast ship in, at least during high tide. Going over the shoals into the cove the village, all 45 houses, were laid out to the left, seeming to cuddle away from the water at the foot of the granite hill. A small river passed beside the town. On the far side of the river a small rock beach was used by the smaller boats during the brief summer.
Caelan thought his village the most beautiful spot on the earth. They were blessed with a deep harbor, a fresh water river and were only a short sail from one of the greatest places for fishing on the planet. What they didn’t have, however, was a long growing season or good top soil. The few root crops helped get them through the winter, but with few other vegetables and no fruit they depended on outside resources to survive.
The ship with their winter supplies had run aground and sunk. Luckily there was no loss of life, but the winter was sure to be hard.
After a huge late season catch Caelan’s father had volunteered to make a run down to St. John’s. The weather had been very mild, but the winter was always unpredictable and few ventured more than a day from their tiny port.
They had waited for the ship’s return. On Christmas Eve, with the schooner five days overdue, they were hit by a strong Nor’ Easter.
“I hear they’ve been sending steamships all the way to Halifax,” he heard Maggie say. “Someday they may use them to bring supplies up here.”
“Perhaps someday,” Mother replied. “But they aren’t here yet. And even a steamship wouldn’t venture out in a storm like this. No, we can only hope your father’s riding the storm out in a safe port. You need to be getting to bed, now my child. Don’t worry your pretty head about him any more tonight.”
Caelan pulled away from the vent. The air throbbed with the surf booming against the rocks and the shrieking wind. He took a last look out of the window. It did seem to be slowing down, the snowflakes growing big and puffy. He went to bed with his clothes still on. It would be a cold night.
It was still dark when Caelan woke up. It would stay dark until almost eight. Warm air and voices drifted out of the grate. He could smell cooking, most likely a nice fish chowder for Christmas dinner.
Going down the stairs Caelan recognized Mr. Graham’s voice. Why would the town’s head man and makeshift minister be stopping by early this Christmas morning? Perhaps he’d heard some news. Caelan shivered.
As he rounded the corner he recognized another voice. Father!
“We had a great wind,” his father said. “I knew the people in St. John’s had the same luck with the fish as we so I decided to trust my luck down to Halifax. Glad I did, too. The port was jammed packed with steamers. They came from Portland, Boston, hell, even from New York. They were jam packed with everything except cod. I never got such a good price. We’re so full I slept on boxes the whole way back and sweet Mari is riding lower in the water than I’ve ever seen ‘er.”
“Was that safe, Mr. Campbell?” Mr. Graham asked. “You were risking the safety of the men aboard, not to mention the starvation of our village.”
Caelan could see his father size up Mr. Graham before answering. “It was a risk all the men were willing to take and it paid off in spades, Mr. Graham, in spades,” his father answered. “We caught a great wind on the way back but the storm finally caught up to us. It was hugging the coastline so I put out a piece and waited it out. The storm was a fierce ‘n, aye, but Mari is a brave girl and rode it out with grace. We still had to battle waves the size of mountains, but when it started to lessen I headed for town. I let the storm pull the Mari right in. Thought I’d hit the cove too late, but I noticed the storm surge would let me ride over the shoals. As soon as we had the ship battened down for the night the storm ended leaving us on flat water.”
“Good tidings, Mr. Campbell,” Mr. Graham said. “I’ll let the town’s people knew all is well and to start unloading come first light.”
“I doubt if ya need to do that,” Father said. He pointed to a window.
Caelan rushed to the window. The ghostly shape of the schooner Mari was visible in the predawn glow, riding very low in the middle of the harbor. A flotilla of little boats was heading towards her.
“The town’ll ‘ave a proper Christmas feast tonight, Mr. Graham, yes they will,” Father said, “thanks to the graces of Mari.”
“Well, thank God you’re safe, Mr. Campbell,” Mr. Graham said. “God bless and Happy Christmas to you and yours.”
“Yes, Mr. Graham,” Father said to the town elder as the older man headed to the door. “Happy Christmas.” Father turned to Caelan and winked. “And a very happy Christmas it’ll be.”
Caelan jumped into his father’s arms. Yes, the happiest Christmas in memory.
Greensleeves by Trent McDonald
Trent McDonald is a New Hampshire based “creative” who pretends to be an author, composer, musician, photographer and artist. He runs a blog, Trent’s World, which deals with topics creative along with some words about humanity and compassion along the way. There are samples of his different artwork on the blog including almost 100 original short stories that were written just for the blog.