The Christmas Arbors
The two brothers, Silas and Isaac, walked slowly up the cobbled walkway toward the old creepy house. Although the lawn had been mowed, the underbrush cut back, and the old clapboard and trim had a new coat of paint, it was still the old haunted house that had sat vacant in their neighborhood ever since they could remember. As they got closer to the door, Isaac uncharacteristically took his older brother’s hand and said: “Lets go Silas.” Undeterred, his older sibling uttered a firm “NO! I saw a girl our age go in and I’m going to meet her.”
Silas gingerly reached as high as he could to the brass knocker and it made an eerie thud as it echoed in the old house. A few seconds passed and Silas was as eager as Isaac to retreat, when the pair heard the distinct sound of footsteps inside.
The knob turned and the door creaked open revealing the face of a beautiful curly headed girl. An odd sight inside this house that had been the source of ominous feelings for years. “Hi! My name is Harper,” the pretty girl spouted. “Who are you?”
It took Silas a couple of seconds to recover, but he managed to point to his brother and say: “This is Isaac… Jett, but you can just call him Jett. I’m Silas, but everybody calls me SiFi. Want to come out and play?”
Without hesitation Harper yelled over her shoulder to her mom who was hard at work somewhere in the creepy old house. “Sure honey,” her mom called back, “But don’t leave the yard.” “OK, Harper shouted back as she pulled the door closed. It was a promise that she wouldn’t be able to keep.
The three sat on the porch and proceeded to plan out the day’s adventure. After a few minutes, Harper jolted upright and said, “Wanna see something cool?” The boys perked up too. Not only did they get to spend time with a kid their age, an adventure to boot, was too much to pass up.
Harper said, “Follow me;” and she headed around the house through an archway long overgrown with orange trumpet vines, into the dark and foreboding back yard. At the arch the boys stopped short, but in the darkness they could see Harper urging them on. Holding hands and taking baby steps, they shuffled into real estate they had never set foot on and followed their new friend down the side of the house and around back, past an old porch and around another corner, under an old oak tree. Harper pointed down. Below her was something overgrown with vines. “What is it?” Jett said, breaking his silence for the first time.
“It’s a door.” Harper declared. “Where?” SiFi asked. Harper reached down and started pulling at the vines. Soon, Jett and SiFi joined in, and they tore at the old foliage and brushed away dried leaves and branches until not one, but two huge doors with rusty hinges and a big lock, blocked the way to what was indeed a mystery.
“Do you have a key?” SiFi asked. With a pondering look Harper’s answer trailed off as she said, “No.” It was more a question than an answer. The trio stood in a world of thought that only a child would understand, when it was Jett who shouted, “Ill be right back,” as he tore around the corner and disappeared.
A few minutes later he came back with a screwdriver. He proudly announced that the screws that held the ancient lock hasp on, were wood screws and easily removed. SiFi assured Harper, “Jett is good with stuff like that.” It turned out that Jett was right, but easy would not readily describe the twenty-minute ordeal that followed. Eventually they got the hasp off and the moment of truth arrived. They pulled the right door up with all of the strength the three of them could muster. It wouldn’t budge.
Again, Jett had an idea and returned with a board and a log. He set the log close to the concrete base and slid the board under the door. He started prying the other end of the board when Harper and SiFi realized what he was doing, and joined in. When the door flew open, it sent the trio tumbling. As they looked up all three thought they could see a glitter of light rising above the open door, but in a second it was gone. Today was going to be an adventure, indeed.
When they surrounded the door, any light they had perceived was gone, replaced by the blackest of black in the abyss that met their searching eyes. It was Harper that sprang into action this time as she said, “I know where a flashlight is,” and she headed to retrieve it.
She got back and shined the light into the hole. In the dim light, all they could see was stairs.
They gathered their courage and slowly step, by step, they headed downward. Then the beam of the flashlight lit up a switch, as if it was the bottle with an unspoken invitation like, “Drink Me,” in Alice’s Adventure. Harper flipped the switch and what they saw made their jaws drop. They were in a basement filled with decorations, Christmas Decorations to be exact. They were all around them. A giant snowman, a drumming bear, a Santa and his sleigh; there were rolled up strings of garland and beads. Strings of lights, boxes of extension cords, and on one wall there were three giant arches that were different from the rest of the decorations. The craftsmanship was unusual, as if they were made a long time ago.
It was SiFi that broke the silence first. “Nobody in our neighborhood has Christmas Decorations.” He blurted.
“Why Not?” Harper asked.
With foreboding, Sifi answered, “Something happened, something bad.” He went on. “It was long before Jett and I moved here, but something happened, and nobody has celebrated Christmas for years.”
Harper was stunned. “You don’t celebrate Christmas?” she asked.
“We do,” Jett said. “But we do it in private…private,” he repeated for emphasis. Then he continued, our parents told us that we do it that way because we, don’t want to upset the neighbors, ’cause of what happened.”
“What happened?” Harper asked. SiFi said, “We don’t know, nobody will talk about it. But whatever happened, was bad.”
They stood in silence for several moments, then Jett announced, “I’ll be right back.”
After a few minutes, he returned with a piece of technology that was affectionately known by the brothers as, “Grandma’s iPad.”
Jett sat on the steps and his face glowed in the light of the screen as he typed and clicked. It wasn’t long before he smiled.
“Did you find something?” SiFi asked.
“YES!” his brother declared triumphantly.
SiFi and Harper squeezed in beside Jett on the narrow steps to see what he had found. There was a newspaper article from exactly twenty-five years earlier with a picture of a boy about their age. There was also a picture of a house with a yard filled with Christmas decorations….the same house and Christmas decorations that filled the basement they were in…including the three ancient arbors that were now against the wall. Only in the picture, they were spaced across the front sidewalk and appeared to create a kind of tunnel over the sidewalk.
The headline of the article read, “Forney Boy Disappears Without A Trace.” With dropped jaws they read of how young Travis James had disappeared. There were pictures of uniformed men and women, as well as civilians searching for the lost boy. All three got teared up when they read his mother and father’s pleas for help to find their little boy.
They searched on and found that two years later, the search was abandoned. There was a picture of Harper’s house being boarded up, the way her family had found it when they bought the property a few months earlier.
They found another article that lamented the neighborhood’s abandonment of putting up Christmas Decorations. The article said that before Travis disappeared, every home in the neighborhood put up Christmas Decorations to the point that people for miles around would clog the narrow streets to see them from cars and on foot. But two years later, not a single family had the heart to put up decorations and remind the James family of their loss.
It was a lot to absorb for the tiny group of fast friends. They decided to leave and closed the big door. A feat that was easier than opening it.
That night they snuggled in their beds and contemplated all they had found and learned that day.
Bright and early then next day, SiFi and Jett heard a knock on their door. When they opened it, they were greeted with the perky face of the curly haired girl from across the street they had met the day before. Mom walked up behind them and asked, “Who is this?” The brothers made proper introductions and Harper asked, “Can the boys come over?”
Mom said, “Sure, just be home before the street light comes on.” Little did they know they were in for a day of work, hard work, as Harper announced that her mom and dad had given her permission to put up Christmas decorations, probably not comprehending the magnitude of the request.
All day long, the friends dragged decorations up the rickety steps of the basement, put them together staked them, and strung extension cords to hook up lights. They found a cardboard box that contained an unusual item. Harper read the instructions and surmised that it synchronized lights to music. So not only did they get lights and decorations up, they hooked up the music box, and the decorations…came…to…life.
As you can imagine, a crowd appeared to watch the kids at work, several joined in, and none had the heart to tell the kids that Christmas Decorations simply weren’t done. After all, the James family had boarded up the house years ago and moved away. It wasn’t likely they would be upset.
The last thing they put up was the three Christmas Arbors over the sidewalk, in exactly the places they had seen in the article on “Grandma’s iPad.”
With a Crowd standing by, the power to the lights was turned on, and the light show began. It was spectacular! For the neighbors, it was even more moving because it was a sight the neighborhood hadn’t seen in a quarter of a century.
It was then the street light came on, and the siblings had to go home. They said goodbye and headed across the street. A few minutes later, SiFi and Jett burst through their door across the street and went back to Harper just before she went inside. Jett handed the girl one of his two walkie talkies and SiFi said, “We can still talk on this.” With that, the three of them went inside, but not out of contact.
They sat with their faces in the windows of their upstairs rooms past their bedtime and watched with pride the Christmas Light show they had created. They saw a trickle of cars slow down and look at the light show. They saw joggers and mom’s with strollers stop and look at the lights. It was a brave new world for their neighborhood, but they hadn’t seen anything yet.
At precisely ten o’clock, Harper’s mom unplugged the lights. But that didn’t stop the three friends from talking over the walkie talkies with excitement about their creation. Eventually Harper said, “We better go to bed.” Sifi agreed and they all tried to go to sleep, but couldn’t. Not yet.
It was exactly midnight on the dot, and all three of them were staring into the darkness at Harper’s front yard when the lights of the Christmas arbor to the south, lit up and an audible, but subtle WHOOM, like the sound of a light saber on Star Wars, as they saw the blur of something passing through it. A split second later, the second arbor lit up with another WHOOM, and the form was clearer. Could it be a kid? Then, a split second later, the third arbor lit up with another WHOOM, and it was unmistakable. A kid had just run through the arbors. But as he passed the last one, he lost his balance and went hot into the sidewalk with a tumble. The last thing they saw was the boy grimacing in pain, clutching his knee.
“DID YOU SEE THAT?” SiFi shouted into his walkie talkie with a loud whisper.
“YES!” Harper exclaimed. “IT’S A KID!”
With, “WE’LL MEET YOU DOWNSTAIRS,” SiFi ended the conversation and all three quietly opened their doors and headed downstairs quietly through the front door.
They converged around the boy who was obviously discombobulated.
“Where did you come from?” Harper asked, the situation too urgent for introductions.
“I didn’t come from anywhere,” the confused boy said continuing, “Where did you come from, I’ve never seen you before and I’ve lived in this house all of my life.”
The three were stunned and fell silent for a few seconds.
Harper asked, “Are you ok?”
As he grimaced, the boy said, “I think I busted my knee,” as he clutched his wounded limb.
It was Jett who finally asked, “Is your name Travis James?”
“Of course it is!” Travis Replied.
Another long silence. Then SiFi told his brother, “Show him.”
Knowing exactly what he meant, Jett headed back into the house across the street and a minute later emerged, undetected, with “Grandma’s iPad” in hand.
They sat around Travis on the ground and Jett turned it on. When the screen came on, Travis reeled back a little.
“WHAT IS THAT THING?” Travis said.
Harper said: “You’ve never seen an iPad?”
Still leaning back, Travis admitted, “No.” as if uttering a question.
“I think you’ll understand when Jett shows you a newspaper article,” SiFi said.
Jet turned the screen toward Travis as he began to read. Before long his eyes welled up with tears as did those of his three companions.
“But this is my house” Travis said.
With empathy Harper said. “This was your house. Your family moved and boarded it up when you were lost. I live here now.”
It was Travis’ turn to fall silent in thought. Finally he said, “I have to go back.”
“How?” Jett said.
“The same way I got here,” Travis replied.
“Then let’s get you home,” SiFi answered.
It took all three of them to get Travis back on his feet. But when he tried to put weight on his damaged knee, he could barely walk.
“How am I going to run back through the Arbors if I can barely walk?” It was a good question…a really good question.
Then Jett said, “I have an Idea.” He headed back toward the house, but instead of going inside, he headed to the back yard. He came back into the glow of the streetlight pushing an electric scooter with a seat.
Again Travis said, “What is that thing?” Again, some explanation was in order, since it hadn’t been invented yet when Travis had disappeared.
With excitement, SiFi explained that after a quick lesson to show Travis how to operate the strange new machine, he could probably build enough speed to go backwards through the Christmas Arbor. They all had to admit, it was a theory….a pretty good theory.
Then Jett threw a cold blanket on the whole thing. “The battery is dead,” he announced.
“Then we’ll charge it,” his brother said. SiFi continued, “It will only take about two hours and we can have Travis home by morning.”
With a grimace Jett retorted, “I said the battery is: DEAD!….DEAD, DEAD! As in, we need to get a new one.”
Then Harper burst with excitement and declared: “We’ll just push it through”.
Then it was Travis’ turn, “What a great idea, but who will do it?”
They didn’t have much time to ponder that prospect when Harper continued, “All of us. If it works, we can get Travis home to his family and the thee of us can come back through the arbors and be home before daybreak.”
Again…it was a theory…a really good one.
There was no time for hesitation. They got Travis onto the seat and got far enough back for a good head start. The brothers each pushed a handle bar and Harper pushed from the back. They headed towards the arbors like an Olympic bobsled team, running as fast as they could go, building speed along the way. They didn’t know how fast it would take, so they went as fast as their legs would take them.
When they reached the first Arbor they were encouraged when it lit up and they heard the familiar WHOOM! When they reached the next arbor, it lit up too, and they heard the sound. When the third lit up, so did the night sky as they passed through the arbor.
They found themselves in the same neighborhood, but now it was very different. The brothers in particular, stopped and looked around in awe at a sight they had never seen in their old neighborhood. That is, their new neighborhood. Every yard was ablaze with light and music with all manner of Christmas decorations. It was an awe-inspiring sight. But the biggest surprise of all was yet to come.
Travis was home. He ran up to his door, Harper’s door, and went inside. He quickly came out with his mom and dad, clinging to them as if he had not seen them in forever, even though it had only been hours. His parents were visibly confused. For them, Travis had never left. The situation was surreal.
Travis introduced his parents to his new friends and tried to tell them what had happened, but they only stood there wide-mouthed, in disbelief.
“Show them,” SiFi told his brother.
Knowingly, Jett pulled “Grandma’s iPad” out of the back of his pants where his shirt was tucked in and turned it on. When the light came on Travis’s dad said, “WHAT IS THAT?” The question was coming up a lot lately.
SiFi replied, “It’s an iPad; it hasn’t been invented yet,” And smiled as if his proclamation was the most normal statement in the world.
SiFi took the iPad and tried to search for the newspaper article, but to no avail. He quickly realized a cruel fact. He was in in a world before 4G or even 3G for that matter; he was back in a computer age he had only heard of; the world of dial-up. There was barely an internet to search in 1993, much less with an iPad. They were sunk.
Then a smile burst across Jett’s face. “I saved it,” he proudly proclaimed. With a few clicks, the article was back and he handed “Grandma’s iPad” to Travis’ mom and dad.
They read in silence. Then as they read, realization took root as the gravity of what had happened that night began to grasp their hearts.
In tears, it was dad who grabbed all of them in a bear hug and mom joined in. All five of them huddled together as a family of friends that transcended time. They hugged for a long long time. Through tears, all he could say was, “Thank you, Thank you,” over and over again.
Finally, the moment was broken by light from the arbor nearest them, accompanied by the same sound. The second and the third lit up each with a WHOOM!
There at the other end, emerged two figures bathed in the light of all of the Christmas Decorations. A boy and a girl that weren’t dressed like anybody they had ever seen, except maybe in a Christmas Pageant.
As the group went to welcome the new visitors, it was an odd mixture of disbelief and understanding at the same time, as they approached the two new visitors.
“Are we in Heaven?” the boy asked.
It was Travis who answered, “This if Forney, Texas and I’m Travis. This is Harper, Jett and SiFi, and these are my parents. Who are you?”
Awestruck by their surroundings, the group around them barely passed notice as the boy said, “My name is Kaleb, and this is my sister, Tabitha.”
Tabitha asked, “Please tell us about Forney, Texas.”
To that, Jett pulled out Grandma’s iPad and explained events that had happened that night.
Shock just isn’t a strong enough word to describe Tabitha and Kaleb’s reaction. After a lot of talking, questions and explanations about the brave new world they were in, Kaleb turned to his new friends and said, “I wasn’t sure why we got here, but now I think we came to take you back with us.”
Travis’ parents objected, of course, but Harper, Jett and SiFi were exhilarated at the prospect. However, after the realization that the James’ had lost their son once, there was no way they were going to let it happen again.
They all said goodbye to their friends the James family, and Sifi, Harper, Jett, gathered to continue their journey through the arbors one more time, along with Tabitha and Kaleb.
This time, they decided to run through single-file. After a good head start, the five of them ran through the end that Tabitha and Kaleb had just come out of.
As they passed through the last arbor, the blaring Christmas lights of the neighborhood gave way to darkness, but it wasn’t total darkness. It was also cold, but they spotted the light of a warm fire surrounded by people dressed a lot like Kaleb and Tabitha. They all went to the fire to warm themselves. Their presence caused no small stir among the people around the fire, but this was a night of new and thrilling surprises.
Though intrigued, nobody asked about the strange clothes worn by strangers, but they were with Kaleb and Tabitha and if they were their friends, they were everybody’s.
Before Harper, Jett and SiFi could say anything, they heard the sound of people and animals approaching by torch light out of the darkness from the east. They approached the campfire carrying ornate boxes. All three were colorfully dressed, indeed and made quite an impression. A man came out of a shed nearby and greeted the three new arrivals. He escorted them to the shed and they soon heard shouts of “Praise God” and a lot of other utterances of love for the Creator.
After a long while, the man came back and introduced himself. “I am Joseph, he said,” and continued, “Would you like to meet the new King?”
The three stood dumbfounded. This was really happening. With wobbly knees they walked toward the shed and Joseph said, “This is my beautiful wife, Mary.” She offered a feeble hand and said, “And who are you?”
This was no time for equivocation. Each child told the story in turns, each filling in missing parts, lest any important detail was left out. Mary and Joseph listened intently as if it was the most normal story on earth. Finally, Jett pulled out Grandma’s iPAD, and there was a gasp from everyone around and they all huddled to see what would have been the show of a lifetime under normal circumstances. There were more shouts of “Praise God,” as the children finished with Kaleb and Tabitha voicing credence to the story.
Then Mary said, “Would you like to meet Jesus?” That question of course, would be a pivotal one in millions upon millions of lives to come, and Mary knew it. So did Harper, Jett, and Isaac.
All they could do was nod their head, yes.
Joseph gathered the children around a manger and the baby turned toward them with the brightest smile the world had ever seen. A promise of hope. Their eyes met and the three children were changed forever. Their time in the presence of Jesus was only a few minutes, but it seemed like forever. They felt a warmness on their faces and remembered the story of Moses’ face glowing after he was in the presence of God.
Then Mary drew the three kids close to her and said, “We, that is Joseph and I, are his earthly parents, but he is the only Son of God. He chose you to come here through space and time to see for yourself.”
Then Joseph said, “I think you are supposed to go back and tell what you have seen to a world thousands of years from now, that has forgotten God’s Son.”
SiFI managed to say, “I think so too.” Jett and Harper nodded in agreement. And with that, it was time to go.
After saying goodbye to everyone and a special goodbye to Jesus, the three friends got a fair distance away from the three arbors and ran like the wind.
They expected to emerge in a neighborhood full of Christmas lights, but that’s not what they found. Instead, they were in front of Harper’s house with only the streetlight to see by.
While they were still getting their bearings, they heard the footsteps of a man approaching. As he got closer, he wasn’t quite familiar, but he wasn’t a stranger either. He looked to be about 40 years old and it soon became clear that he knew them. When he spoke, he said, “I want a full report.”
All three of them knew instantly who it was. It was Travis, the boy they had met earlier that night, a lifetime ago. He got on his knees and hugged his three friends. He thanked them for the precious gift they had given him, and especially his parents. At that moment, lights and music came on all over the neighborhood. Every home, and I mean every one, was decorated in Christmas lights. There was a shout of surprise as people came from every direction. From behind cars, bushes, trees, out of houses…everywhere. All came to thank the three little heroes that had just arrived.
With anticipations, the three friends looked around for the familiar faces of their parents, but didn’t see them.
Travis saw the looks on their faces and smiled. Then he said, “I have another surprise for you.” He stepped into the street and made a motion with his hand. As he did, a big stretch limousine started to approach. Travis turned toward his friends and said, “You probably haven’t figured out, that you don’t live here anymore. Never did. You have changed the paradigm. Do you know what a paradigm is? It is the way it was supposed to happen. That has all changed.” He continued, “To your parents, you never left but for a few hours tonight. So I found them and brought them here, a few hours after midnight on Christmas Day.”
He went on to say, “I’ll tell you, it took a lot of convincing, but it was my parents who finally convinced them to come. I think they will need more persuasion to assure them of what happened tonight.”
With that, the limo pulled up, the doors popped open and Harper’s mom and dad emerged first, followed by SiFi and Jett’s. They gave their kids a big hug and looked among the crowd in a mild state of shock. After assuring their parents they were okay, they moved on to the topic of the message they were supposed to bring back across two thousand years.
They stood in a circle for a long time, each thinking what to do next. Then Harper broke the silence and said, “We have to tell people. Our parents. EVERYBODY.”
SiFi said, “But how could they possibly believe us.” It was a good question.
Then Travis piped in, “I think I can help with that.”
“How?” Harper asked. “I know a great deal about marketing and I happen to be rich, really rich.”
“Rich?” she said. “How did you get rich?”
Travis flashed a long broad smile before he answered: “My company invented the ‘Jett Scooter,’” he said. Well, me and my partner Jack that is. “Remember, Jett, you left your scooter behind. One day, I opened it up to see how it works, and found that your scooter was a prototype. Inside the cover, I found a note telling how Jack had designed and built it all on his own time and at home. But when he tried to find investors to produce it, he was informed that any invention he made was the property of the company he worked for. The note said all he got was this prototype and he was eventually fired. All he got for severance was this prototype. The note said he was going to give it to the first kid he saw. That kid was you, Jett. Now you can rent one of my Jett Scooters in any major city in the world with a phone app.” He went on, “Jett, yours is a household name, and all of you are partners in my company.”
“I remember that guy,” Jett said. “I was at a garage sale in Dallas looking at it, and he just gave it to me.”
They stood there for a very long time, absorbing what they had just learned. “How can our word be enough?” Harper said. “It is just our story,” she went on.
Then, they noticed Jett smiling like a Possum eating peaches. In unison, Harper, Travis, and SiFi impatiently said aloud, “What?”
With flourish, Jett pulled “Grandma’s iPad” out of the back of his pants and announced, “I recorded it… All of it.”
I wrote this story for my grandkids: SiFi, Jett and Harper, as well as my kids Travis, Tabitha, Kaleb, and my beautiful wife Lori with her famous iPad. But, I am glad to share it with your family. Between Thanksgiving and New Year, feel free to drive past the arbors in front of our house in Forney, and if you are so inclined, walk through them. In the meantime, I would ask an age-old question. It is what Christmas is all about and the only question that matters: Would you like to see Jesus? You can, and you know it.